At the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Olympics, for the first time, a group of refugee athletes carried a flag symbolizing their temporary Refugee Nation. Yara Said’s design for the Refugee Flag draws inspiration from orange life vests and her personal experience of crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece. We recognize World Refugee Day—which has its 20th anniversary on June 20—as an opportunity to raise awareness of the millions of refugees worldwide who are forced into exile because of natural disaster, persecution, conflict, and war. Arièle Dionne-Krosnick, curatorial assistant in the Department of Architecture and Design, corresponded with Said about the flag and how it signals survival, resilience, and agency.
How did Refugee Nation approach you and ask you to design the Refugee Flag?
I was contacted by the Refugee Nation in June 2016, when I was doing a two-year residency at a studio in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I received an email asking me to design a flag for a refugee team that was going to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August. I had one month to design it, and complete freedom to choose the design. They had formed a 17-day temporary nation, and this nation would have an anthem by Istanbul-based composer Moutaz Arian. The “residents” were 10 athletes from the Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria, and Ethiopia. A flag would bring all of these athletes together who could not be represented by their own countries due to the political situation.
Original sketch book of the Refugee Nation flag thought process