Unpacked: Refugee Baggage

September 30, 2019


Cullis Wade Depot Art Gallery

Open luggage bag with sculpture filling the inside. Sculpture is a living room interior.

What if, when you heard the word “refugee”, you thought of a neighbor or a co-worker? 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?

Created during the summer of 2017, this multi-media installation is the work of Syrian-born, New Haven, CT artist and architect Mohamad Hafez and Iraqi-born writer and speaker Ahmed Badr.

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. Their stories are collected and curated by Badr, who attends Wesleyan University and is himself an Iraqi refugee. Visitors experience short audio clips through headphones and can continue reading the stories online and on exhibit placards.

UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage is the first project of its kind. Both collaborators have been personally impacted by the refugee experience, imbuing this exhibit with a deeper sense of connection and understanding. Find out more on the website: https://www.unpackedrefugee.com/ or the New York Times Article.

This project is supported in part by funding from the Mississippi Humanities Council, through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and in part, from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, the Starkville Area Arts Coincil, and The Criss Trust.

Sponsor organization logos

Main Project Activities:

September 30–November 1, 2019 Unpacked: Refugee Baggage exhibition on display in the Cullis Wade Depot Art Gallery, second floor, MSU Cullis Wade Depot next to Barnes and Noble. Gallery open Monday–Friday 9am until 5pm.

September 30, 10am – “Communicating Migrant Identity” Panel Discussion with Mohamad Hafez, Dr. Jenna Altomonte, Assistant Professor, Department of Art, Dr. Milena A. Melo, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology & Middle Eastern Cultures, and Dr. Keith Moser, Professor, Classical and Modern Languages & Literatures, Colvard Student Union, Fowlkes Auditorium

September 30, 4pm–5:30pm  – Public Exhibition Reception for UNPACKED: REFUGEE BAGGAGE, Cullis Wade Depot Art Gallery

September 30, 6pm – Mohamad Hafez Artist Talk, Robert and Freda Harrison Auditorium, Giles Hall

October 18, 8am–10am – Storytelling Workshop by Ahmed Badr. Workshop highlighting the importance of empowering youth through art and storytelling, Starkville Community Theatre, limited space

October 18, 6pm – Ahmed Badr Public Talk, Room 1030, Old Main Academic Center

This set of activities is designed to attract participation from across-campus and the larger MSU and Starkville community to learn about and engage with cross-cutting issues of immigration, religion, refugees, belonging, social justice, loss, hope, and war in the politically charged region of the Middle East and beyond through the prism of the story told by Hafez’s art.

About the Artist:

Mohamad Hafez, a Syrian architect (with the firm Pickard Chilton in New Haven, CT) and artist creates artwork that responds to the political turmoil and the refugee crisis in the Middle East. His work has recently been featured in several acclaimed exhibitions and profiled on Connecticut Public Radio, in The New York Times, and in The New Yorker Magazine (see http://www.mohamadhafez.com/PRESS). 

Hafez describes his art as: “Expressing the juxtaposition of East and West within him, Hafez’s art reflects the political turmoil in the Middle East through the compilation of found objects, paint and scrap metal.  Using his architectural skills, Hafez creates surrealistic Middle Eastern streetscapes that are architectural in their appearance yet politically charged in their content.”  (www.mohamadhafez.com/bio).

About the Writer:

Ahmed Badr is a 20-year-old writer, social entrepreneur, poet, and former Iraqi refugee working at the intersection of creativity, displacement, and youth empowerment. Ahmed founded Narratio, a platform for youth empowerment through creative expression. Narratio publishes works of art from all over the globe, and hosts workshops centered around the power of storytelling and creativity. In the last three years, Ahmed’s storytelling initiatives have reached over 20 million people across the world. Together with the Syrian artist and architect Mohamad Hafez, Ahmed co-founded UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage, a multi-media installation that remodels the homes of refugees inside a series of suitcases in an effort to humanize and give voice to a demographic that is often viewed in the abstract.

Ahmed is a junior at Wesleyan University, where he is a Fellow at the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. Ahmed is currently working on his debut book that focuses on the creative expression of refugee youth across the world, to be published by Andrews McMeel in 2020. Having spoken at the United Nations on more than ten occasions before the age of 20, his work has been featured and supported by the World Bank, SAP, Harvard University, Yale University, OECD, BuzzFeed Tasty, TEDxTeen, Instagram, NPR, Global Citizen, and others. This past September, Ahmed was selected by the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, as one of 17 UN Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals. (from http://ahmedmbadr.com/

See Badr’s video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PD2YfCvhg9U

For more information about the exhibition and its programs at Mississippi State University contact Gallery Director, Lori Neuenfeldt at lpn20@msstate.edu or call 662-325-2970.

The Mississippi State University presentation of Unpacked: Refugee Baggage and its associated programs are organized by Mississippi State University’s Department of Art in the College of Architecture, Art and Design, the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures in the College of Arts and Sciences, No Lost Generation, and the Mississippi State University Anthropology Club with additional support from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College, the International Institute at Mississippi State University, Holmes Cultural Diversity Center, School of Architecture, Department of Landscape Architecture, Cobb Institute of Archaeology, Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of Chemistry, Department of Communications, Department of English, Department of Psychology, Department of Sociology, and the Social Science Research Center.

See the story at msstate.edu.

See the story in The Dispatch.