Mohamad Hafez’s new art exhibition, “Collateral Damage”, opened in the Walsh Art Gallery in the Regina A. Quick Center on Oct. 25. Preceding the opening, Hafez gave a compelling lecture on his inspiration for the art in the exhibition, including a biography of himself.
In the lecture, Hafez talked about emigrating from Damascus, Syria, his life in Syria before the war in 2011 and how Syria has changed over the years. His lecture was heavy at times because the topics covered the destruction of homes and massacres of millions of people, but it was interwoven with Hafez’s witty, sarcastic humor and the heartwarming stories of his childhood and family. He talked about how there is nothing academic about his work because it all comes from a deeply personal connection to the subject. Hafez spoke about people’s perceptions of refugees and immigrants and how it negatively affected those people.
By the end of the lecture, Hafez referenced his goal in creating his art. “What we’re trying to do is not romanticize, but humanize,” he said. He wanted to create a perspective that hasn’t been shown often in media and achieve a sense of hope though the destruction he created in his art. By telling his own and other people’s personal stories, he wanted to embrace the diversity in the world through his art.
The art exhibition itself is a compilation of different projects throughout the years. In each project he used a mixture of plaster for a base and found objects to create a streetscape of Syria. Hafez most recently did a series called “Unpacked: Refugee Baggage.” In this series of works, Hafez worked with Ahmed Bahr to interview refugees. These interviews turned into streetscapes of those refugees’ homes and buildings that were destroyed by war. Every piece has such intricate details that it hardly feels like we’re looking at a collection of found items. It looks like we’re looking at a scene of raw emotion. It’s clear that this exhibition is close to Hafez’s heart from the attention to detail and delicate composition of each streetscape. Each has a specific purpose, whether that be challenging stereotypes or criticizing country leaders for negligence.
One of the most interesting streetscapes was “Why Have You Forsaken Us?” It shows a woman praying in front of a dilapidated shrine. Initially, the woman is unidentifiable, and she looks like a Muslim woman in a hijab, praying for hope in a war-torn society. However, if you turn to the side and look closer, the woman is a miniature sculpture of the Virgin Mary. As Hafez said in his lecture, this piece challenges the negative stereotype of a woman in a hijab. As he sees it, the streetscape could be showing the Virgin Mary or a Muslim woman, it doesn’t matter, but there is a specific negative perception of Muslim women that shouldn’t exist in our society.
On the back wall is another impactful piece called “His Majesty’s Throne.” It is a depiction a bathroom with a Trump-like portrait on the back wall. From the toilet, which is the center of the piece, there are pipes that go towards an innumerable amount of houses. This piece is particularly impactful because, instead of talking about the pain that Syrian people have faced in their own country, it specifically refers to the pain they face in the United States. It says a lot about how leadership in America is negatively affecting immigrants and refugees living here.
Collateral Damage will be in the Walsh Art Gallery until Dec. 15.