Do Savannnah

Iraqi-Canadian family of artists aims to start conversation in Jepson’s ‘Generation’

  • “Ibrahim 2,” from the “Flying Boys” series; Tamara Abdul Hadi (Canadian/Iraqi, b. U.A.E., 1980); 2014 wallpaper installation; 72 x 60 inches; courtesy and copyright the artist
  • “Souls Land Closing,” Sundus Abdul Hadi (Iraqi-Canadian, b. U.A.E., 1984); 2010 unique artist book; acrylic, pastel, charcoal and transferred digital photography on canvas; 14 x 28 inches; courtesy and copyright the artist
  • “A Sha’e Al Akhir,” Sawsan AlSaraf (Canadian, b. Iraq, 1953); 2013 photo collage and mixed media with acrylic on wood; 27 ½ x 47 inches; courtesy and copyright the artist
  • “Amman/Wybdah,” Sawsan AlSaraf (Canadian, b. Iraq, 1953); 2014 digital photograph; courtesy and copyright the artist
  • Iraqi children during class at a summer camp in Qartaba, Lebanon; Tamara Abdul Hadi (Canadian/Iraqi, b. U.A.E., 1980); 2015 digital print; 16x20 inches; courtesy and copyright the artist

Iraqi-Canadian family of artists aims to start conversation in Jepson’s ‘Generation’

22 May 2017

Art is one of the most versatile tools humans have to communicate with each other. In its purest sense, it can of course be a source of creative expression, but it can also be utilized to educate, to expand consciousness and to bridge boundaries.

The exhibition opening this weekend at Telfair’s Jepson Center does all of the above and more and will hopefully promote a wide-ranging discussion about identity and place in a way that isn’t always given space to happen.

“Generation: Sawsan AlSaraf, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Sundus Abdul Hadi” includes a diverse selection of work from three Iraqi-Canadian women, a mother and her two daughters, that explores a myriad of themes in our ever-shifting global environment, including gender, family, cultural identity, sense of place and spirituality. The show is organized by Telfair’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art, Rachel Reese, with the hope that the exhibition can prompt a larger dialogue.

“We’re thinking of this as a little microcosm of the Arab diaspora,” says Reese. “Obviously the displacement of people all around the globe right now is a huge issue, so I think this will offer some empathy into one family’s perspective and how that informs our world view.”

All three women are established artists in their own right and also members of the multimedia artist collective The Medium, which includes Sundus Abdul Hadi’s husband, the journalist and hip-hop emcee Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman. Each woman has her own mode of artistic expression, which includes photography, film, painting, book-making and other design components, as well as some site-specific elements that should be quite intriguing.

The exhibition at the Jepson will be a sort of mix-tape, with each woman’s work intermingled and in conversation with the others.

“My family means everything to me and my mother and my sister have been the most monumental influences on my life and my career as an artist,” says Sundus Abdul Hadi. “To see our works in conversation with each other, and with a wider audience, takes the work and the countless private conversations we have had in our homes and studios into the public sphere. Through the exhibit ‘Generation,’ the phenomenon of our family experience, as well as our unique individual experiences, are narrated through each of our artistic visions.”

Reese also adds that this show is an opportunity to let the artists’ work speak for itself.

“We’re presenting this from their perspectives. We want the artists’ perspectives to lead the show,” she says. “We really want to put this forward as an idea of how artists can use their artwork to maneuver and think about their place in the world and how they’re responding to it rather than us as a museum saying, ‘Here’s how we want you to think about this.’

“We want an unfiltered view of saying, ‘Here’s how some artists are working through some things.’ Particularly artists who are from a community we think we know a lot about here in the West. Hopefully it’s an empathy-building exercise.”

Though Sawsan AlSaraf says it’s important for her to share her diasporic life story publicly with audiences from different backgrounds, she says it’s also important to remember that she is only speaking from her own personal perspective in her art.

“Although this dispersed life was unstable, it was and still is poetic,” says AlSaraf. “Saying that, I question if I, as an artist of Iraqi origin, can represent other displaced people experiencing similar or more difficult paths.”

Her daughter Sundus hopes this exhibition will help re-frame some of the discussion we’re having in the West as it relates to that region of the world. When asked what she hopes Savannah viewers will take away from this exhibit, Sundus’ answer is straightforward and sincere.

“I would like them to question any misconceptions they may have of what a Muslim, Arab, Iraqi woman may be, and to critically confront the misrepresentations or orientalist framework that dictate those identities. Also, I hope that the viewer can develop a deeper understanding of what is simultaneously a universal and unique experience of displacement in today's socio-political climate.”

An opening night panel discussion with all three artists, moderated by Reese, will take place at 6 p.m. May 25. Admission is free for members and $5 for non-members.


What: “Generation: Sawsan AlSaraf, Tamara Abdul Hadi, Sundus Abdul Hadi”

When: May 26-Sept. 10; opening reception/panel discussion 6 p.m. May 25

Where: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.

Cost: $20 adults; $18 military/seniors; $15 students; free for members/children 12 and younger