A voice for newcomers in Sweden

'I dream of a world without borders'


Published: 25.Oct.2016 13:25 hrs

Artist Nada Ali saw her creativity stifled by the trauma of Syria’s war, but relocating to Sweden to take part in a leadership programme helped put her career back on track.

When everything’s a matter of life and death, art is more often deployed than enjoyed. Nada Ali has witnessed this transformation first-hand. 

“Syrian artists have become burdened with big questions - the meaning of freedom, dignity, justice and life,” Nada Ali tells The Local Voices. 

And as the Syrian art world became more and more politicized against a wartime backdrop, her own creativity dried up. 

“Everyone needs time to rehabilitate from the trauma of losing relatives and close friends, the trauma of forced change. As one of the many Syrians exposed to this, I was unable to draw,” says the 28-year-old fine arts graduate. “The environment confined me psychologically, and left me unable to translate what I truly feel.” 

In 2012 she contributed to an art project in Damascus about the role of media in the social movements gathering pace at the time. It was to be her last project in Syria.

A detail from one of Nada Ali's works featured in the 2012 'Propaganda' exhibition in Damascus.

The move to Sweden

Soon thereafter she moved to Jordan to work as an executive director at a cultural centre in Amman. In addition to her main responsibilities organizing events and curating workshops, Ali started a side project: developing an environmental art concept to renovate an archaeological site in the Jordanian capital using solid waste.

“I applied with a proposal of the idea to the Swedish Institute and won a scholarship to take part in a leadership programme in Stockholm where I can train my skills as a social entrepreneur and build a professional network.” 

The She Entrepreneurs programme gave her a strong grounding in business and improved her leadership skills, she says. 

“Moving to Sweden has been an important step to re-build my future.”

She devoted a lot of time and effort into developing the idea of creating sellable artworks from trash, but then she put the project on hold: she wanted to rediscover her love of painting. 

Curious welcoming, Nada Ali

From traditional to digital art

She combined her painting with taking courses in Swedish as a second language. She also kept in touch with the Swedish Institute. A contact there recommended she check out Hyper Island, the Stockholm-based creative business school. And so began the process of fusing her analog past with the digital future. 

“The Motion Creative program at Hyper Island was everything I needed to enter the motion pictures industry, where I found my new career.”

Inspired by the school’s ethos of learning-by-doing, she soon found a fresh creative impulse in digital art. 

“Even though I’d always been attracted to traditional art I am very excited at having jumped onto the digital wave where I can both have a sustainable career and follow my passion.”

Story continues below. 

Capital of my heart, Nada Ali

'I dream of a world without borders’

Now Ali has established herself as a concept artist and feels very much at home in Sweden, a country whose values she believes largely mirror her own. 

“I simply don’t believe in nationality. My relation to my homeland is not about geography or borders, it’s about people and memories; it’s a history of sentimental relations that transcends geography,” says Ali. 

“Whether I hold a Syrian or a Swedish passport doesn't define me. I live on this planet which we all belong to and need to look at as one big home.”

Untitled, Nada Ali

More Stories

Anas Awad with his "Swedish family" told his story to The Local Voices

Sharing the best of The Local Voices

We told a lot of great stories in 2016. Did you get to read and share them all? READ
A total of 1,800 employees at the Swedish national agency in charge of helping job-seekers have been told they will be let go. READ
Once you've lived in Sweden for a certain amount of time, you'll become eligible for permanent residence and, in many cases, Swedish citizenship. READ
A man has been jailed for attacking and raping an eight-year-old girl on her way home from school 24 years ago, after a law change in how police can use DNA linked him to the scene. READ
Photo: Erik Gerhardsson

'History will record how everyone reacted to the Syrian tragedy'

Erik, a 21-year-old Swedish volunteer, reflects on his experience helping refugees in Sweden and abroad. READ
We know Swedes love their fika breaks, but a group of sweet-toothed thieves took it to the extreme when they stole thousands of homemade chocolate biscuits and sponge cakes from a small village hall. READ
It's a song of rain and sun. Or in other words, Sweden in May. READ
Ever find yourself doing something more... Swedish than you expected, after a few years living in the country? You've probably gone native. Here are 10 signs it has happened. READ

This Iranian teaches Swedish online to 10,000 followers

"I’m exporting Swedish to my homeland." READ