Refugees and war veterans are building a piece of Iraq in Philadelphia
Al-Mudhif- A Confluence," is an art project by Sarah Kavage and Yaroub Al-Obaidi.
- Artists and volunteers are constructing a traditional Iraqi building out of
reeds, or phragmites.
- It is believed to be one of the first such buildings in North America.
"There's lots of lessons to be learned about how we value things, or don't, in our society: plants, people, and how we sort of demonize the 'invader," Sarah Kavage, a Seattle-based visual artist and urban planner, said on a Monday morning in June.
"Most people in this area are like, 'This plant is annoying - it's terrible,'" Kavage said. But it's also not going anywhere. Therein lies the appeal: that it's a fact of life. And we must deal with those.Kavage's lecture, hosted in January 2020 at the Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia, sought to cast the lowly reed in a new light. Where it came from, she noted, this terribly annoying plant had been put to a constructive use: providing shelter.
During her research, Kavage had discovered the mudhif, a style of building popular in southern
Al-Obaidi approached Kavage after the lecture.
"I know what you were talking about with the mudhif," he told her. "And I think we are going to build one here.There are not many people of Iraqi descent in the Philadelphia area, where Al-Obaidi was ultimately resettled after fleeing Iraq following the 2003 US invasion (after stops in Syria and Malaysia). Building a mudhif came to him as a way to bring part of Iraq here. He just didn't know, until he met Kavage, that he was surrounded by the raw material.
Their meeting that January led to the Al-Mudhif project. For the last couple weeks, Kavage, Al-Obaidi, and a group of volunteers have been constructing the traditional Iraqi building as part of an initiative, Lenapehoking ~ Watershed, hosted by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and nearly two dozen other nonprofit nature preserves. The initiative is intended to honor the land's indigenous inhabitants, the name itself a nod to what the area was called before settlers dubbed it the "Delaware," and spark reflections on our interactions with this habitat.
Using material gathered by volunteers at the Schuylkill Center and from the nearby marshlands of the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge - about 1,400 pounds of phragmites, total - the idea is to combine the cultural with the natural world in a way that creates a living, breathing space."We wanted to do a project that can be a networking opportunity for the centers, with each other, but also with the surrounding communities and build more relationships and constituencies around them," Tina Plokarz, director of environmental art at the Schuylkill Center, explained.
In 2017, Al-Obaidi took part in a project sponsored by Mural Arts Philadelphia, Radio Silence, that brought together US veterans of the war in Iraq and local members of the Iraqi diaspora for a 90-minute performance on Independence Mall. Both groups were invited to share their experiences of the war, as well as the years before and since, to bridge the divide between groups that come to view the other with trepidation, if not hostility.Al-Obaidi's hope is the completed structure can serve as a gathering place for Iraqis like him and Iraq war veterans alike - people like Lawrence Davidson, a soldier whose military base in Diyala, outside Baghdad, was just two miles from his family's residence. The two met during the 2017 project and are now good friends, having dinner at each other's homes.
Still, "We all need a space -- a symbolic space," he said. "I think meeting here will be much more exciting for us both. This is something from my country of origin, my tradition, and they feel this also related to them," he said. "This is the connection we'll start from."The intent is not to forget, but to move on. "We have memories, of course - some bad memories - but if we [are stuck] on those memories we cannot move," Al-Obaidi said. "We are all survivors. We survived the war, either Iraqis or the veterans. So to continue our life, we need to be open to each other, to create friendships."
Today, after all, "we are all in the same place, same city."
A piece of Iraqi
Mia Hoppel, 17, is a homeschooler who lives nearby. She helped dig the holes for the base of the building and, on this stiflingly hot Monday, was weaving together the reeds that will be used for the roof.
"They said that it was one of the first ones of these houses in the country, and it seemed like a really neat opportunity to work on it," Hoppel said. As a lover of nature, she was also intrigued by the idea of employing a foreign species that is often viewed as an enemy of local wildlife."It's important to sort of find ways to use invasive plants," she said. "They are kind of everywhere."
Kavage hopes it also serves as inspiration."In the art world, there's a certain sort of cultural language that environmental art seems to take - it takes the form of guilt," she said. "It feels really important to shift into the language of just sort of experience: of doing and making, being together, sharing space together. It has a joy to it that's really special."
Have a news tip? Email this reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Here’s how to recharge your Reliance Jio on WhatsApp
- India may classify Bitcoin as an asset class, but that may not solve the underlying problem
- Facebook rolls out new chat themes and payment options in Messenger app for US users
- Dodla Dairy's ₹520 crore IPO isn't to expand into new markets but to strengthen its foothold where it already exists
- Sun TV Network's advertising revenue shrinks, but profit jumps 11% on subscriptions