Working together with writer Ahmed Badr, architect and sculpture artist Mohamad Hafez listened to the stories of refugee families living in America and helped shine a light on their experiences. As two former refugees themselves—Hafez from Syria and Badr from Iraq—this is an issue close to their hearts. The result is Unpacked, an emotional multi-media installation where the voices of each family tell their experiences as viewers engage with an incredible scale model of the homes they’ve left behind.

Each model, created by Hafez, is packed into a suitcase as a symbol of the baggage these families carry forward into their new lives. These rooms have been left behind, becoming remnants of a former life that was interrupted due to war or civil unrest. As Hafez listened carefully during the interviews, which often ran six to seven hours, he was sketching what he heard. Using what he discovered, he was able to mold their memories into a visual representation that leaves no question about the dire circumstances these refugees faced.

In pairing a voice and a visual, Hafez and Badr hope to build a bridge of understanding between East and West. All too often, the American public only hears about refugees in a negative light, through the filter of third parties. With Unpacked, the public is able to view, listen, and judge for themselves after learning first-hand information.

Unpacked will be on view at the University of Madison-Wisconsin from February 5, 2020 to March 15, 2020.

My Modern Met’s interview with Mohamad Hafez here.