Sanctuary in the midst of danger: 52 postcards of hope in times of desperation 

San Francisco-born, York-based artist Linda Combi shares what inspired her to use her talents as an artist to support refugees 


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© Linda Combi

I think that everyone who supports refugees has that one moment that they can remember vividly – the moment when they realise that they can do something to improve the life of someone they have never met. 

In 2016, I watched a news segment on ‘The Last Gardener of Aleppo’, a story about Syrian gardener Abu Waad who amid the bombs and missiles which rained daily upon Aleppo managed to grow and cultivate vibrant flowers, vegetables and other plants alongside his 13-year-old son Ibrahim. The segment followed Abu Waad and his son, until Abu Waad was sadly killed when a bomb landed next to his plant nursery. 

Many refugees carry seeds from home, which is poignant and hopeful. © Linda Combi

His story touched me deeply. He spoke so beautifully about plants and had an incredible relationship with his son Ibrahim. Using Abu Waad’s beautiful words about being a gardener, I decided to do an exhibition in 2020 at a local venue, selling original pictures and prints and greeting cards in order to raise funds for UNHCR and the LemonTree Trust – an organisation that works alongside displaced people to transform refugee camps through gardening.  

 This was my starting point, but ever since I’ve done various different exhibitions around the theme of gardening and refugees, migrants, security and safety, and primarily – hope. 

In my latest project, I was inspired to create 52 postcards around the theme of displacement. I decided to create postcards as you’d typically send them when you’re on holiday to family and friends back home, but for refugees, they can have very different connotations. It’s grounded in the concept of refugees being in another place, writing a letter to home or to their former self. 

 I chose the theme of oasis for all of them because this embodied Abu Waad’s story – despite the great danger and destruction all around, just like Abu Waad refugees too can have their own oasis or sanctuary. The other aspect is that I grew up in an oasis – in the desert of California – and so this was a direct connection to my home too. 

In many of my postcards I use birds as a symbol for people forced to flee. They’re innocent, and they’re on the move. My favourite postcards feature the birds, including a recent work of mine ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, which features a magic carpet and is grounded in the idea of a dream where you can escape danger and uncertainty, with the magic carpet taking you away to a new peaceful security. 

An image depicting the moment after a rare rain in the a dry land, when dormant seeds come out into the open once more. © Linda Combi

Refugees and other displaced people have to endure so much. Everyone should support refugees – not only do they enrich society, but more than anything, it’s just basic kindness and human empathy to understand how frightening it must be to be to have to flee.


To view more of Linda’s art and find out more about her work, please visit her website here.

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