World’s first Conflict Art prize gives recognition to Africa’s displaced

Veteran war reporter Martin Bell hands Artraker prize to South African photographer Alexia Webster

Alexia Webster is the winner of the world’s first Conflict Art award for her photographic portraits from communities on the geographical and economic periphery of South African cities.

Alexia Webster, Martin Bell and David Nyheim

Alexia Webster, Martin Bell and David Nyheim

Image by Artraker

Next steps for Alexia include a visit to Nyarugusu, Tanzania's only remaining camp where Congolese refugees from South Kivu have been staying since the 1990’s; and Chad, where hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees from Darfur are living in camps.

The £2,500 Artraker prize was presented by Martin Bell, UNICEF Ambassador and former BBC war correspondent, in a ceremony held on International Peace Day at Goldsmiths University of London. “In an inter-connected and inter-dependent world, artists as witnesses of war can be a powerful force for peace,” affirmed Martin Bell, who covered foreign assignments in more than eighty countries and eighteen wars.

The event marked the inaugural 2013 ‘Artraker Sessions’ and official launch of Artraker, a new organisation set up for artists using art to explore conflict. Themed ‘Unseen, Unknown, Unsung’, the evening drew an audience of over 100 participants from the arts, media, diplomatic, political, corporate and the peace-building communities.

Entrants were judged on both their artistic merits and the resonating impact their work inspires. Convenor of the MA in Arts and Politics at Goldsmiths Dr Bernadette Buckley said: “Alexia’s work stood out on account of the fact that her art touches both the viewing public and those photographed.  A critical factor in our decision was the view that the concept was easily scalable; the Artraker prize money is awarded towards the replication of her Street Studios initiative in refugee camps across the continent where it was felt the concept could be an incredibly powerful tool in helping people to reclaim their future.”

The Artraker prize awards impactful artwork from some of the most dangerous conflict areas around the world. The competition attracted 300 submissions from 90 countries covering many geopolitical hotspots. Themes tackled by the 18 shortlisted artists include a day in the life of a Syrian ‘freedom fighter’, the uncensored casualty chain of British soldiers in Afghanistan, drawings from the memories of a Ugandan child soldier and human trafficking/sex slavery in World War 2.

Alexia Webster’s winning entry was announced at the event alongside the work of the selected Artrakers. Her photographs were taken across some of South Africa’s most marginalised communities, including Blikkiesdorp, a barren temporary housing project outside Cape Town, and Orange Farm on the far outskirts of the city of Johannesburg. 

Webster’s portraits in these communities capture the warmth and togetherness of families.

“A family photograph is a precious object, especially if you do not have the money to print photographs or even own a camera,” explained Webster. “On entering refugee camps, you can’t help but feel a prevailing sense of displacement, uncertainty and disconnection amongst the refugees; my images hope to affirm their identity and self-worth, re-establishing their place in the human family tree.”  

Artraker is a not-for-profit enterprise conceived in collaboration with conflict resolution firm INCAS Consulting, peace building organisation International Alert, and political artist Manali Jagtap, who said:  “Having worked in conflict areas such as the Niger Delta, I’m a firm believer that art has a unique ability to provide unexpected insight and understanding, while breaking new ground in how we build peace.

“Artraker’s aim is therefore to elevate both the prominence of artists working on conflict art, and the value of their art to understanding conflict. In so doing, we hope to inspire and shape how people and organisations engage and respond to conflicts.”

David Nyheim, Chief Executive of conflict resolution firm INCAS Consulting, went on to say: “Creativity is essential in peace-making.  For us, the Artrakers bring the ‘art’ back into the ‘art of peace’.”

The organization’s next steps are to showcase conflict art, expand the Artraker network of artists, and foster effective exchanges between them and peace-building organizations.


About Artraker

About the Artrakers

17 entrants made the shortlist for the 2013. More information about each of these candidates can be found at

-       Assadullah Baran Bromand (Afghanistan)

-       Amirhossein Bayani (Syria)

-       Oksana Chepelyk (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Russia, Ukraine, USA)

-       David Cotterrell (Pakistan)

-       First Floor Gallery Harare (Zimbabwe)

-       Alexandra Handal (Palestine)

-       Alana Hunt (Indian occupied Kashmir)

-       Valentina Curandi and Nathaniel Katz (Queens, Sarajevo, Bosnia, Herzegovina)

-       Chang-Jin Lee (Korea, China, Taiwan, Indonesa, Philippines, Netherlands)

-       Emeric Lhuisset (Syria, Iraq, Colombia)

-       Rozhgar Mustafa (Iraq)

-       Issa Nyaphaga (Cameroon)

-       Vincent Okuja (Uganda)

-       Christine Renaudat (Colombia)

-       Elvira Santamaria Torres (Colombia)

-       Nida Shams (Pakistan)

-       Lalage Snow (Afghanistan)

-       Alexia Webster (South Africa)

The impact of conflict:

The Telegraph estimates that the price tag for the US alone of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is about USD6 trillion. 

The Guardian estimates that the Afghanistan war alone cost Britain more than GBP37 billion.

Conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria alone have led to the deaths of over 300,000 civilians in recent years.


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