When crayons become powerful means of solidarity

Thierry Barrigue is a French cartoonist, co-founder of the satirical magazine Vigousse, launched in 2009, and creator of a beautiful project called “CrayonSolidaires (Solidary Crayons). He was recently in Jerusalem to present it, and it is there that our colleague Alessandra Perini had the chance to interview him.
We practice Linguistic Empathy. We count on your understanding if our English is not perfect.


Aim of CrayonSolidaires is to share intimate moments with refugees through drawing and caricatures, smile with them, give them a name, an identity, but mostly give them their lost dignity back. To do so, Thierry with two other Swiss cartoonists, Pitch and Sjosted, went to several refugee camps: Cherso in Greece, Aida in Bethlehem, Palestine, some schools in the Gaza strip and the detention centre for refugees in Holot, in the Negev desert in Israel. In all of these visits, Thierry and his colleagues empathically listened to the refugees stories, both adults and children. They entered their tents, felt their emotions, looked at them, and then drew their faces.

Here is what Alessandra asked Thierry:

Yesterday evening, in your introduction to the exhibition of your drawings and to the movie, you talked about “Listening”. Could you tell me more about that?

The magic of live drawing allows an immediate communication, and overcomes all cultural barriers. I cannot draw if I don’t look with my heart first. The same happens with communication: you must be able to listen to the other before communicating. Listening is a priority for me, it’s enthusing, it is a form of kindness towards the other. I have always worked and drawn for everybody, and I have now decided to work for those who suffer, those who stand at the margin, deprived of an identity. With the act of drawing, I want to go towards these people, tell them “good morning, you exist, I look at you in the eyes, you have got a name, a surname. I respect you. I listen to you”.

Can you tell me about your association “CrayonSolidaires” (Dessiner pour Tous)? And about the experience in the refugee camps and in the Negev desert?

The idea of CrayonSolidaires came to me after I met a UNHCR delegate in 2016 and talked about the Balkan route, which is now closed to refugees. No hope to continue their journey or go back. I cannot stand talking about migrants and refugees as an anonymous mass.

Everybody’s scared of the words “refugees” and “migrants” but these are not simply words. They represent a group of people whom we are afraid of and reject. These people are like us, they have their own history, they had a job, a house that they lost because of the war. That’s why I decided to go first to Cherso (north of Thessaloniki) in Greece with two Swiss cartoonists, and then to Palestine, Gaza and the Negev desert in Israel. I wanted to meet these people. I have to tell you, I was scared but I think that I am a lucky person and when you are lucky you have to give back to the others to build something else.

People told me: “do you think that a drawing can change something? They need houses, food, jobs, etc….”. I know, I answered, but what I can do is give them back their dignity and maybe their force. This is what has happened and I’m very moved by it all. I met girls who were so happy just because I taught them how to draw and adults who thanked me for giving them their smile back. I want to go back to Cherso.

Is it correct to say that what you did worked as art therapy?

Yes, you’re right. It’s a therapy for myself, too. I am lucky because through my job I can express my feelings: pain, anger, etc. I’m my own psychiatrist. I also try to bring humour in everything I express, I believe it is very important. Combining the magic of drawing and humour created a strong complicity with the refugees.


All this is documented in a couple of videos that Thierry shot during his visits to the refugees. Please take a moment to watch them, and see how Thierry manages to create a bond of complicity with the people, and makes them smile with simple gestures. While sitting there with his crayon and aquarelles, Thierry listens to atrocious stories of loss, bombing, death, and escape. In the end, listening with empathy is exactly this: giving space to people to tell their stories, making them feel they are worth the while to be listened to.


Alessandra Perini
November 2017