This article was previously published in the special edition, ALUMNAE (December 2018).
PG Dip 2008
Valeria Missalina Bembry began her career in humanitarian communications as an Assistant Press Officer at the international development charity, ActionAid, after completing her BA in International Relations. She later became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar where she taught English, trained Malagasy teachers in TEFL methodologies and organised recreational activities for at-risk youth. A fellow volunteer’s project marketing textiles designed by local women inspired Bembry to pursue a career combining supporting creative communities and culture in humanitarian settings. She enrolled in The Courtauld’s History of Art Postgraduate Diploma programme and wrote her thesis on perceptions of the female nude in Victorian sculpture.
Photograph by Eric Koon
After earning her PgDip at The Courtauld in 2008, Bembry studied the changing art markets in the Middle East, particularly the market for Arab and Iranian contemporary art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art at the London campus not too far away in Bedford Square. She earned an MA in Art Business with a thesis that examined art and artists affected by socio-political turmoil and the market nexus between collectors, auction houses, galleries and institutions.
Bembry is currently a Reporting & Publications Officer with the International Organization for Migration (UN Migration). IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people. Based at the Iraq Mission, she works in the Return and Recovery Unit, which primarily addresses key recovery concerns: restoring public services, rehabilitating damaged infrastructure, improving local economies and supporting good governance.
However, she is intrigued by the different ways diplomacy, current events and discord inform and affect artists, craftspeople and the wide spectrum of creative practitioners while also staying passionate about advocacy as demonstrated by her expansive undertakings in three continents. She has campaigned for ‘Blood Diamond’ awareness in Maine, highlighting the illicit trade that has funded brutal wars and human rights abuses; organised funding campaigns for Syrian refugees, and helped developed the Women in Action conference series, which served as a platform to showcase creative responses to the issues around women’s rights and gender equality. Remaining close to her art-history background, Bembry’s most memorable experience is the time she spent with young Syrian refugees leading street art workshops in their camp – formally a prison during the Saddam Hussein era – in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Very few Courtauld alumnae combine international politics, Art History, and humanitarian work so effectively. Valeria Bembry is an incredible, inspirational force who demonstrates the wide-ranging and positive application of art in all contexts.