Syrian artist and architect Mohamad Hafez drew attention to the role of art in the worldwide refugee crisis as he explored his cultural identity and displayed his work as a part of the Art Beyond Borders event on Friday night.
The event was organized by International Student Union and Cornell Welcome Refugees to “provoke dialogue across cultures and promote international awareness through visual media,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
The keynote address of the event was delivered by Hafez, a Syrian artist previously featured in The New Yorker and The New York Times. Hafez hopes to be a “voice for the Syrian refugees, for Muslim Americans, for forced migrants” through visual art works, according to his website.
“We are living in a crazy time,” Hafez said, “where a lot of us might get labeled too many ways based on our nationality, passport color, ethnicity, religion, skin color … without realizing who we really are.”
According to The Guardian, the U.S. resettled 15,479 refugees in 2016 under Obama, but under Trump the number has reduced to 3,024 in 2017 and only 11 so far this year.
“This country can do so much better than that,” said Tarannum Sahar ’20, president of Cornell Welcomes Refugees, in an email to The Sun.
“For the first time, [art] gave us an ability to put people in front of each other, to have a conversation, to have a dialogue, a much needed dialogue in a very separated society,” Hafez said.
Hafez said his obsession with arts began with the “peace and tranquility” he observed in humans. As he continued to explore his voice in and outside of the refugee community, he yearned to tell the human part of the story with his artworks.
“I felt that art needs to tell us what is so desperate for somebody to put their two to three year old across the Mediterranean,” Hafez said. “And that story is usually neglected in the media.”
One of his projects, which is titled “UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage,” incorporated suitcases that he collected from immigrants and audio recorded in Syria with “airplanes flying over … bombing, and people yelling.” Through this project, Hafez hoped that he could prevent humans from “repeating the mistakes” made in history.
“There’s no more time important than this time to have these conversations,” he said.
The event also featured different types of art works from Cornell students including paintings, photography, poems and video to raise awareness on refugee crisis all around the world.
Chiara Benitez ’19, president of the International Student Union, said these different artworks that represented different cultural backgrounds would also “promote dialogue on how ‘internationalism’ is depicted through media.”
According to audience member Nadia Samaha ’20, the art pieces exhibited were “astounding” with “truly inspiring” stories behind each.
“Coming from the Middle East, I was especially moved by the talk and it was just beautiful to see people from different communities and backgrounds listen to Hafez’s perspective,” Samaha said.