The mass-scale movement of peoples fleeing from the devastation of war, genocide and natural disasters is one of the over-archiing narratives of our time, prompting a lot of debate and even unsettling shifts in political landscapes. But no matter how one sees the issues, one cannot forget that refugees, migrants (or whatever one is inclined to call them), are human beings too, going through a difficult experience that could happen to any of us.
Based out of New Haven, Connecticut, artist and architect Mohamad Hafez has created a series of sculptures speaking to the universal humanity behind such experiences. Dubbed Unpacked: Refugee Baggage, these scaled-down dioramas are built out of upcycled suitcases, scrap metals and other materials, and give a glimpse into what those who have been affected by these adverse circumstances have lived.
The creators say:
What comes to mind when you hear the word “refugee”? The dominant narrative is that of a victim, fleeing war and violence. But is that really where the story begins and ends? [..]
For UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage, Hafez sculpturally re-creates rooms, homes, buildings and landscapes that have suffered the ravages of war. 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 recordings that accompany the small but realistically executed sculptures were recorded by Admed Badr, an Iraqi who fled his home country and who is now a student at Wesleyan University.
The details in each suitcase-enclosed scene are delicate but compelling: books on the shelves, teacups, chairs, sofas; a storied sense of a 'home' -- physical and metaphysical 'baggage' -- that's carried with the person no matter where they go, even as encroaching rubble and destruction surrounds it.
The idea was to create a deeper sense of understanding and connection, by telling people's stories in their own words, and allowing visitors to get a glimpse into what people have left behind -- giving a visual 'face' and audible 'voice' to these experiences that aren't all that separate from any kind of loss we might suffer as humans: death, moving from one home to another, and having to remake ourselves continually throughout the course of our lives.
It's unfortunate that the humanity of people who've had to escape dire situations back home has been all too often stripped away -- whether it's by political parties looking to gain power or even by ordinary people who fear the 'Other'. But instead of fear and ignorance, these thought-provoking works suggest we listen, unpack and really understand this collective 'baggage' that is more universal than we think. The exhibition of Unpacked will be on view at DePauw University‘s group show “Baggage Claim,” until December 9, 2018. To see more, visit Unpacked (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook); Mohamad Hafez (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) and Admed Badr (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook).