If not for his drawings and paintings, Ahmed Alsoudani might still be in Syria. He grew up in Baghdad, and from elementary school on, he was always the best artist in his class. But after his escape to Damascus in 1995, he lived with no papers for four years. Then his art caught the attention of an American working with the United Nations, and in 1999, Alsoudani, now 32, came to the United States as a refugee, ending up in Portland, Maine. Four years ago, he was one of only 20 art students accepted to the six-week summer Yale-Norfolk program, and in 2006, he was one of 21 applicants (out of more than 1,100) accepted to the two-year Yale M.F.A. program. Last year, Alsoudani had a solo show in New York City—a rare honor for a student.
Goal: "It's important to me that my work be disturbing."
On his art: Alsoudani's portfolio contains apocalyptic, Guernica -like large-scale drawings and small-canvas paintings. He cares less about money than high visibility (he'd love to get his art into the Whitney Museum). His identity also matters. "I do not want to be an Iraqi artist in the U.S.," he says. "I want to be some guy from Iraq who paints."
Education: Maine College of Art (2005); spent 2½ months at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2006). He will earn his M.F.A. from Yale this spring.
Why Yale: Studio facilities, faculty, visiting- artists program. "I feel spoiled at Yale."
Advice: Just because you're an artist doesn't mean you have talent. You have to know how to use your tools.