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03 Jun 2024

Case Studies

Ali balances three careers to reach his ambitious goal of meaningfully contributing to Australia’s cultural landscape

SSI client Ali with his art

A passionate painter, Ali balances his art and graphic design with a security job, studying and plans to mentor the next generation of Australia’s diverse artists.

Ali’s arts career started at a young age. At 12 years old, Ali had his first exhibition in his local town in Syria exploring themes of nature and the environment.

“Even as a kid I always loved drawing and painting, I was born with it. I continued to pursue this passion through studying bachelor’s degree in visual communication from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Damascus in Syria,” he said.

While Ali was studying, he started his own graphic design freelance business, participated in exhibitions across Syria, and offered design services pro bono alongside other volunteering – but in his words, ‘the war damaged everything’.

Ali moved to neighbouring Iraq where he worked in senior graphic design roles across various industries, including print and production and the on-demand delivery startup Lezzoo, which is now going international.

By the time Ali landed in Australia in 2022, he had a degree and over 10 years of varied professional experience in arts and design. This is also when Ali’s struggles with finding meaningful work that matched his experience and skills began.

“Getting my qualifications recognised was easy for my profession compared to doctors or engineers. With SSI’s help, it only took me three months and they also helped me cover the cost. The challenging part was getting employers to see the value in my overseas skills and degree,” he recalled.

“I applied for around 100 graphic design jobs. I was applying for everything, any opportunity that was related to my skills. I only got one response that didn’t lead to employment.”

Ali is clear that Australian employers are missing out by not giving professionals like him a chance.

SSI client Ali walking in the park

While Ali sent 100 applications to try to find work in graphic design, it only took one application to land a job in security. Ali now works as a security officer in a data centre to help him support himself financially so he can continue pursuing his passion of arts and design.

“It’s so important to highlight to employers that workers with overseas qualifications can be a valuable addition to their business as they bring new ideas, diverse skills and experience.”

“Offering programs focused on integrating refugees into internship programs would go a long way to help bridge the gap between overseas qualifications and local work requirements and culture,” Ali reflected.

“I now work as a self-employed graphic designer and artist, and I’ve completed various projects including drawings, paintings, branding and logo designs for musical artists, community organisations, restaurants, cultural associations among other clients in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.”

“I’m also currently pursuing a business course to strengthen my local knowledge and entrepreneurship skills, and I’m aiming to complete a graphic design certificate to align with local standards and get more understanding of the market,” he added.

Beyond graphic design, Ali continues to pursue his passion in painting and drawing. When Ali arrived, he was connected to a community of artists who have been instrumental in shaping his artistic journey in Australia.

“My case manager referred me to SSI’s Art and Talent Committee, which allowed me to attend workshops and exhibitions – I sold one painting in a recent exhibition I was invited to,” Ali said.

“I continued to expand my skills by participating in a ‘Train the Trainer’ workshop with artist and educator Dr Paula Aboud. Additionally, I had the opportunity to facilitate a calligraphy and painting workshop organised by SSI at the Refugee Welcome Centre, where I shared my knowledge with newly arrived refugees and Inner West locals.”

Last year during Refugee Week, Ali was invited to showcase his art at the NSW Police Force Headquarters in Parramatta and he will return this year to showcase his art in the same venue. The theme again explores ‘freedom’, but this year with the addition of ‘family’.

For Ali, his family continues to motivate him to move forward and achieve success. Ali is proud he comes from a family of artists and musicians, and he grew up watching his dad paint and listening to his uncle play instruments of all kinds, from the violin to the traditional Middle Eastern instrument oud.

“Reuniting with my family in Australia is my key motivator and ultimate goal. I eagerly anticipate the day when we will be together again after eight years.”

Two years on Australian soil, Ali has a lot to be proud of and still a lot to strive towards.

“I am most proud of my resilience and ability to rebuild my life and career despite being separated from my family,” he acknowledged.

“Achieving recognition for my work and building connections in the local arts community has been a significant milestone for me. I want to keep building on this and mentor emerging artists from diverse backgrounds so I can contribute to the cultural landscape of Australia.”

Learn how you can get involved and support refugees shape their own path this Refugee Week. Find out more about our campaign and events near you.

Join the campaign to break down barriers so skilled refugees and migrants can work in their fields of expertise and contribute billions to Australia’s economy. Learn more about our Billion Dollar Benefit campaign.

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