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Unpacked: Refugee Baggage

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The uniquely beautiful and delicate creations in the exhibition Unpacked: Refugee Baggage are the work of Syrian-born artist and architect Mohamad Hafez. 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 where they hoped to 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. 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.

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 Mohamed Hafez and allowed him to build a basis for what has been a great success 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.

Exhibition Reception: Tuesday, September 4 from 4:30 – 6:00 pm, Christian Petersen Art Museum, 1017 Morrill Hall

Artist Lecture: Wednesday, September 5 at 8:00 pm, Sun Room, Memorial Union

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; Sue and Larry 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 works of art in the exhibition were kindly loaned by the artist, Mohamad Hafez.