UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage

When I walked into Artspace in New Haven, the studio was relatively empty except for a few people and the art pieces. Each piece tells the story of a refugee, both for the eyes and the ears.

Mohamad Hafez, an architect and artist, takes these stories and creates suitcases, each reflecting the refugee experience. He recreates the rooms, homes, and lives of those who have suffered the damage from war. Ahmed Badr ‘20 records these stories, and curates them. When viewing the pieces, you can put on the headphones hung beside the pieces and listen to these refugees recount their stories.

I put on a pair of headphones, and listened. Each detail has made it onto the pieces. They help show the disaster, but also the innate beauty that these spaces occupied. The small details that compose the entirety of the piece–– dents in car license plates, toys that have accumulated dust from the rubble–– further emphasize the reality of these stories. Within those few minutes, I felt like I was in each of these places: Syria, Iraq, Congo, Sudan, all war-torn and never to be entirely the same as they were before.

I took off my headphones and the room swelled with a familiar sound: prayers being read in Arabic. It was strange to be in a public space in America and hear Arabic prayers so loud and clear. In that moment, I was home, with my grandfather, who lived right next door to the masjid. This juxtaposition of space and time took me by surprise, particularly because I wasn’t quite expecting it. The Arabic has its home at home, and here I am exposed to that via television shows, but not such an open space. Nevertheless, the ambient sounds made the entire experience that much more impactful. Here I was, hearing a language so familiar to me, for the most part associated with happiness, and having it transformed to this moment, to something not necessarily happy, but to that of strength, of courage, and of a new life.

The project was created to humanize the refugee narrative, that the refugee crisis is not simply numbers and statistics, but rather human beings, each who hold their own experiences and stories to share to us.

If you missed out on the gallery, fear not, dear Wesleyan’er! Mohamad and Ahmed will be holding a WESeminar on Friday, November 3rd at 5 PM in Fisk 208.