One of the most divisive issues facing our nation today is that of immigration. Fanning the flames of that political hotbed are the raging international conflicts that are resulting in staggering numbers of refugees. Mohamad Hafez, an architect and artist currently residing with his family in New Haven, Conn., was born in Syria. With horror and tremendous sadness, he has watched from afar as his beloved homeland is obliterated by a civil war that has turned more than 11 million Syrians into refugees.
When Hafez first moved to the United States on a student visa to study architecture, he discovered that his visa was only valid for one entry. Being Muslim and having a name like Mohamad in a post-9/11 America meant that visiting home was to risk never being let back in.
He spent the next eight years in the U.S. without once seeing his homeland. Hafez coped with his homesickness by creating highly detailed and intricate miniature models of the neighborhoods he had wandered about and sketched with loving detail as a teenager. But as time went on, Hafez began modeling the effects that the bombing was having on Syria’s buildings, homes and streets as a reflection of his pain at the deep and unfathomable loss his country was experiencing.
From April 4 to April 30, Lanoue Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, in collaboration with the office of Congressman Seth Moulton representing Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District and Harvard University’s Middle Eastern Initiative, will be hosting “A Homeland inSecurity,” a public exhibition of Mohamad Hafez’s miniature models. Also, Hafez’s “Desperate Cargo” will be on display at the Groton School’s Brodigan Gallery from April 9 through May 19, with the artist talk being given in the Performing Arts Center’s Black Box Theater, on March 7 at 2 pm.
What follows is a conversation between Lanoue’s gallery director, Gina Fraone, and Hafez about the artwork that will be on display at Lanoue Gallery in April.
GINA FRAONE: WHAT COMPELS YOU TO CREATE SCENES OF TRAGEDY IN YOUR ARTWORK? HOW IS VIEWING ARTWORK OF BOMBED BUILDINGS A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE THAN VIEWING PICTURES AND FOOTAGE OF THE ACTUAL BOMBED NEIGHBORHOODS IN THE MEDIA?
MOHAMAD HAFEZ: That’s a good question. People have been desensitized to what they see in the media. There has been so much coverage of carnage — it’s easy for everyone to get overwhelmed and want to just “swipe” to the next article or skip that Facebook feed [on the Syrian crisis]. The media even call it “Syria fatigue.” The viewer of the news can’t help but say, “Oh god not one more [endangered] kid, not one more gruesome shot.”
I am by profession an architect so we believe in the power of models, sculpture and the self-seen physical presence of an architectural setting, and realism is a big part of this. With high detail in my sculptures of the remodeled destruction, you cannot look away no matter what your views or where you stand on the [political] issues. Your eye is so attracted to this highly detailed miniature model; it’s embedded in our subconscious that we get pulled
into details if it’s very realistic looking. So, I realized the power of the model form early on in my architectural studies. My hope is for the viewer to consciously and subconsciously escape into the piece. If they dive so into the piece, perhaps they will forget that they are looking at a model and that a meaningful connection will be made right there. I sometimes add lights or even have smoke coming from some of the pieces so that all five senses are engaged.