Calgary Artist Nicole Wolf Captures Year-Long Trip in Her New Book Drawn Abroad
Over the course of her journey, she backpacked across 16 countries, volunteering with various non-profits. She helped those affected by Nepal’s earthquake, witnessed the attempted coup in Turkey and worked in refugee aid centres and refugee camps in Turkey and Greece.
Artist Nicole Wolf with images from her book Drawn Abroad.
Photograph by Jonathan Lagore
While waiting to board a flight out of Greece in 2016, Calgary artist Nicole Wolf checked her phone and learned a boy living in a refugee camp she had volunteered with had died in an explosion. Though she didn’t know him well, she felt compelled to draw him in her sketchbook and reached out to people at the camp for photos. “I drew his portrait because he embodied something I wanted to talk about,” Wolf says.
That drawing is one of many that eventually became part of Drawn Abroad, a book of Wolf’s illustrations and writing from her year-long 2016 trip. Over the course of her journey, she backpacked across 16 countries, volunteering with various non-profits. She helped those affected by Nepal’s earthquake, witnessed the attempted coup in Turkey and worked in refugee aid centres and refugee camps in Turkey and Greece.
While Wolf says she intended the book primarily as a thank you to the friends and family who funded her trip, it has taken on new purpose as a starting point for a conversation about refugees. “What I’m trying to say is to meet [refugees] before you make judgements,” Wolf says. “Get to know them.”
In addition to publishing her work, Wolf has also had one of her drawings — a pair of Hermes-like wings — tattooed on her ankles on her last day in Greece. “I felt like I got my wings on that trip,” says Wolf. “There’s a passage in the Old Testament that says something like, ‘I will make your feet walk on paths that don’t exist.’ That’s something I internalized for this trip, because I was doing things that there was no handbook for.”
One such task was creating a security system for a Greek refugee camp. Human traffickers were sneaking in and kidnapping women, and Wolf proposed creating photo IDs to differentiate the refugees from the traffickers. “At first they were worried the Greek police would not like it, but then in one night 80 women were stolen. Eighty,” she says. “I was like, ‘I’ll take the hit.’ If I get arrested for taking photos inside a camp, it’s fine. Can we just do something?”
With the help of a refugee who convinced the women to be photographed, Wolf created an ID system that volunteers use to this day.
Wolf hasn’t yet decided whether she’ll return to the places she’s visited. “I didn’t want to go back unless I knew I could do something, I didn’t want to be a voluntourist,” she says. “Now I’ve realized I can do something. I can tell more stories. I’ve realized there’s a community that wants to listen to this. I’m pretty serious now, because I realize I can do some good."
Drawn Abroad is available on Amazon.
Photograph by Jonathan Lagore
An illustration from Wolf's book Drawn Abroad.