SAU Hosts Art Exhibit of Refugee Mementos

By Jasmine Harper

The traveling exhibit “What We Carried: Fragments and Memories from Iraq and Syria” opened in the Ganton Art Gallery at Spring Arbor University (SAU) on Feb. 9. The art pieces were on loan from the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Photographer Jim Lommasson said his goal with the exhibit was to personalize objective statistics about Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

Lommasson initially photographed veterans, and later Iraqi and Syrian refugees to depict the conflicts of war. He then decided to photograph items the refugees took from their homes before fleeing their countries, including mementos like a woman’s teddy bear and a child’s Barbie doll. The refugees wrote personalized descriptions of the objects on the photos, and the Arab American National Museum translated the messages from Arabic to English.

“The refugees’ photographs had the most impact on me. I see my friends and family regularly, but for some refugees, a picture is all they have to remember their families,” senior art major Erin Karafa said.

In the exhibit’s introduction lecture, art professor and Ganton Art Gallery director Jonathan Rinck said 140,000 Iraqis have come to the U.S. since 2003, and one-half to one-third of Syrian refugees are children.

Rinck said he felt passionate about bringing this project to SAU because it aligned well with the university’s global focus.

For college students wanting to learn more about events in Arab nations Rinck suggests The New York Times, The Economist and BBC News rather than social media websites.

“Pretty much everything I own is expendable. The objects refugees took are not worth much in monetary value, but they’re the kind of things that really matter, like family,” Rinck said.

The Ganton Art Gallery will continue to host “What We Carried: Fragments and Memories from Iraq and Syria” until March 22.

 

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