Artists in Exile at Yale University Art Gallery

Have you ever been to a museum exhibition that moved you so much that you started crying and your family started eyeing each other with worried looks on their faces? Ok, probably not. But this is what happened to me at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. It wasn’t my first time there,  and I didn’t even research before going this particular time. But the exhibition Artists in Exile, which will be open to the public until December 31, 2017, just got to me at my very core. And I recommend that you visit if you’re ever in New Haven. After all, it is FREE ADMISSION!

Artists in Exile

The reason is simple. Where can you find an exhibition with artists from Cuba, Iraq, Germany, Chile and so on? All of those featured in the exhibition have one more thing in common apart from being artists: they have lived through exile. Whether it was self-imposed or due to political reasons, they had to leave their country of origin and start life anew. Sometimes they faced the challenges of a completely different culture, language & people. I have never been through an exile, but I know what it’s like to start from scratch in a country which language and way of life was completely foreign to me. I know the type of frustration, adaptation and homesickness that comes from leaving your home and arriving to live in a new place. So yes, this is why I started bawling my eyes out. I just couldn’t control it.

artists in exile
Who would have thought grenades could be pretty?

Baggage Series #4

The most moving piece of artwork for me was by Baggage Series #4 by Mohamed Hafez, a Syrian native. The pain that his art emanates is visceral and gut-wrenching. This is just one of the sculptures from his project UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage. He places his art within luggage and uses different objects to show homes in shambles. The luggage represents all the weight of what immigrants and exiles take with them when they move. It’s the real baggage that we keep within us and that can’t fit in our suitcase. And the homes in shambles are a clear representation of the war in Syria. Hafez was a student in the United States when he realized that he couldn’t go back to Syria once the war began. He took all of the feelings and frustration that came from this issue and converted it into art.

Mohamed hafez

Mohamed hafez

Another artwork that captured my attention was by Shirin Neshat, who is Iranian and American. Her photography showcases men and women and their portrayal in her home culture. The women are covered in black on a beach while the men are portrayed wearing white on what looks like a military training location.

After looking through many of the artworks I was calm and collected. As in, no more tears. But then, I reached the section where there is an enormous map of the world with little wooden things and strings attached to it. And it asked visitors to cut some string, grab some paper and connect where they live in to where they or their family members immigrated from. Plus, to write a little note for others if they feel like it. I’m weak, so cue the waterworks again. But I did it, and it was a great moment to read other people’s note and to see they were proud of their background. You’ll see notes like Viva Mexico, Proud Immigrant, dates when people moved, etc. My husband would like to make a formal request to Yale University Art Gallery for them to include a little stick on Costa Rica. He was upset that his country and others in Central America did not have this so he refused to participate. He’s a very proud Costa Rican…

An exhibition that also includes the participation of visitors? I LOVED SEEING THIS AND BEING APART OF IT. It was such a beautiful experience for me to see immigration portrayed as art.

Apart from this exhibition, Yale University Art Gallery has artwork by Titus Kaphar, Edward Hopper, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and many more. Did I mention the gallery is FREE? Here are some other paintings and art that you can find at the gallery. Some of these photos I took while visiting last year:

Snapshots of the Yale Art Gallery

yale art galery

yale art gallery

yale art gallery


yale art gallery

yale art gallery


Cost Breakdown:

Parking: Free on Sundays. For other days, there is an hourly street-parking fee.

Entrance to the Gallery: Free

Lunch across the Gallery: $40.00 (There are many restaurants around the area to choose from based on your budget)

Gas money: $20

Total Cost: $60.00


  1. Wow, this sounds so interesting and moving! That’s what art should do, too, and it’s great to exhibit these works that might not have been seen otherwise. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What an amazing and important exhibition! My grandparents and my dad had to flee Cuba as Castro was getting powerful. I can’t even imagine leaving the only home I knew, all my friends and family and everything I owned and worked hard for, to go to a new country. They weren’t allowed to bring anything except the clothes on their backs! Thankfully, because of their sacrifices, I am here.

  3. Wow what a beautiful exhibit. I would love to go and the artist’s stories are so touching. Having met Syrians myself know I know how torn up their life is and what a beautiful way of expressing the pain they go through.

  4. I just spent my Autumn working in the Northern France refugee camps, and worked with refugees in the UK before that, and your post brought a tear to my eye. The work is amazing and I’m so glad it is getting the exposure it deserves. I just hope that in the future we can only create more opportunities for artists in exile to show their work, or just for those in exile to create art.

    1. Sarah, it’s amazing that you’ve dedicated your time to helping refugees. A fulfilling and challenging experience all in one. Can you imagine if they were able to create art?

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