University Museums at Iowa State University announces the Christian Petersen Art Museum
's fall exhibition UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage which features the contemporary sculpture of Iowa State alumni Mohamad Hafez. The exhibition opened on September 4, 2018 and will run until October 19, 2018 at the Christian Petersen Art Museum, 1017 Morrill Hall, Ames, IA. Admission is free. University Museums will also be bringing Mohamad Hafez to campus for an engaging lecture on his art that is informed by his personal story, along with other programming that will shed light on the refugee experience in America.
UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage
University Museums has an exceptional opportunity to host the exhibition UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage. The uniquely beautiful and delicate creations are the work of Syrian-born artist and architect Mohamad Hafez of New Haven, CT. The stories depicted are gathered and curated by Ahmed Badr, an Iraqi-born university student, writer, activist, and refugee. Through their collaborative storytelling, they hope to humanize the many diverse people who have come to America as refugees. The stories of people forced to flee their homes, their culture, their families and how America became their new home, a place to begin new lives and escape the constant fear or war and death.
Hafez carefully reconstructs miniature versions of each story and houses the highly detailed recreations within a suitcase. Each is embedded with the voices and stories of real people-from Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, Iraq and Sudan-who have escaped those same rooms and buildings to build a new life in America. The suitcase further amplifies the understanding of each participant's refugee status. They had no choice but to leave their homes, often carrying little with them, but their memories survive intact. The memories of the lives they lived in the countries they loved, mingled with the acrid taste of violence that many witnessed and experienced. Badr brings these stories to life through interview and text, using his own experiences as a refugee to sensitively tease out difficult memories and hopes for the future.
"To make such work, to make it look believable and realistic, I have to immerse myself in what's going on back home," said Hafez. "Sometimes I collapse, looking at what I've created." From For Syrian-Born Artist, "Remodeling the Destruction" of Civil War Is Dark, But Hopeful by WNPR, Patrick Skahill.
Mohamad Hafez came to the United States to study architecture at Iowa State University, but with only a single entry visa, he was unable to return to his beloved Syria. With the advent of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, his home was forever changed. Many of his artistic recreations exhibit a sense of nostalgia for what was, the homes and culture these refugees took pride in, but shown in the midst of their destruction. Each story is unique, yet each story tells of a great sense of loss coupled with the courage and force of will it took each refugee to leave their home.
"As an institution that welcomed Mohamad Hafez and allowed him to build a basis for his successful life in this country, it is our honor to present his very important and timely exhibition. Each work of art is a chance for viewers to better empathize and come to understand the struggles of these individuals, to eliminate the stigma, and to truly see the people who carry the stamp of refugee."- Adrienne Gennett, associate curator, University Museums, Iowa State University
This exhibition is curated and organized by Mohamad Hafez with University Museums. The exhibition is supported, in part, by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous support for the exhibition and artist lecture was also given by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Committee; Larry and Sue Koehrsen; Sarah Nusser and Michael King; Jonathan Sukup; Julie and Len Rodman; College of Design; Global Resource Systems; the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion; the World Affairs Series and Committee on Lectures, funded by Student Government; International Students and Scholars Office; International Studies Program; Department of World Languages and Cultures; and the Department of English.
All of the works of art in the exhibition were kindly loaned by the artist, Mohamad Hafez.