Olivier Kugler
Olivier Kugler


Portraits of Syrian Refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan

Editorial Professional


Commissioned by Julien Rey at Médecins Sans Frontières and Stacey D. Clarkson at Harper's Magazine.

Olivier Kugler is a German reportage illustrator based in London. After studying graphic design in Pforzheim and working as a designer in Karlsruhe he did a masters in illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. In 2011 he became the overall winner of the V&A Illustration Awards for his journal depicting a truck driver’s journey across Iran.

About Entry
I am indebted to the people who generously told me about their struggle back home in Syria and in Domiz camp. They lost homes, family members, friends… Many of them are suffering from physical and mental injuries.

With the conflict in Syria having lasted now more than four years and with no end in sight their future is precarious…

Website/Online Portfolio

Médecins Sans Frontières asked me to create a series of drawings documenting the refugees circumstances in order to present them to a wider audience.

A2 Sketchpad, HB Faber-Castell pencil and computer.

Armed with a note pad, a digital recorder and a camera I spent two weeks, accompanied by a translator, walking through the camp and talking with the people I met.

Out of a large selection of people I met I chose a small number of refugees that I was going to portray. The drawings were done using photos I took in the camp as reference. I scanned the drawings and placed them in the layout. The coloring was done digitally. Then I edited the interviews, hand lettered the transcripts and arranged the texts into the illustrations on my laptop.

Some of the shops in the camp are run by women… beauty parlors and one or two wedding dress rental places. I was very keen on creating drawings portraying the ladies running these shops. The women didn't want me to do these drawings. A cultural thing… There were also some men who didn't want to get depicted, as they were worried that they might get into trouble with the authorities if they should return to Syria.

The problems I am facing, be they of a personal or of a professional nature are minuscule compared to the problems of the people I encountered in the camp. Also, I learned a lot about the circumstances of the refugees and got a much better idea about the complexities of the conflict in Syria.

The food being offered in the camp's many little restaurants was to my surprise absolutely amazing! Shawarma, hummus, falafel…there was also a dish containing beans served with a yogurt and garlic sauce… YUM!!!

Whenever we got invited into someone's tent for a chat we got offered a glass of piping hot and super sugary tea… I had about 10 each day!  It was December… it was cold and wet… the tea was good.

I wanted to work on a book containing a larger series of drawings portraying the people I met but unfortunately couldn't get the funding to do so.