Generation, opening May 26 at Telfair Museums Jepson Center, brings together two generations of Iraqi-Canadian women artists—mother Sawsan AlSaraf and her daughters Tamara and Sundus Abdul Hadi—offering a dialogue between their artworks as to how three members of the same family respond artistically to complex themes of representation, identity, and displacement in a contemporary global world. Each artist works from a very individual point of view and preferred media, yet together they collaborate and synthesize ideas as common belief systems experienced in their lifetimes.
The presentation explores the complexity of ‘minority’ communities, specifically Arab communities, that are often simultaneously subjected to both stereotyping and underrepresentation. Identifying as diasporic artists, maneuvering through time and space, this exhibition acknowledges and addresses that the complex creation of such movement often times is controlled by political, social and cultural issues beyond an individual’s own power. The result is an exhibition, explored from three artistic perspectives, that mine both personal and geographical territory in order to bridge peoples’ connections with others, focusing on humanity as the unifier.
On view are artworks made by the artists in the past 10 years, including Sawsan AlSaraf’s Sufi Path painting series, which began out of a personal impulse to explore spirituality and her place within the world and humanity. AlSaraf became drawn to the Sufi tradition, specifically the whirling dervishes and their disconnection from the material world. The works are self-portraits, depicting AlSaraf wearing facial hair and role-playing as a female dervish. AlSaraf wants her works to question how the expectations of gender both empower and deny the role of women in spiritual quest. By presenting herself in a traditionally male role, she addresses the role of patriarchy from a feminist perspective. “As a family of Iraqi origin, and as artists occupying a mobile space in society, it is important now to explore our capabilities in taking risks intellectually, conceptually and artistically. The power of these risks positions two different generations in continuous conversation in our work; we strive to be open and responsible for things that may be invisible to others,” said AlSaraf.
The youngest sister, Sundus Abdul Hadi synthesizes both her mother and sister’s practice into her own, with interests in photography, book arts, and sonic compositions. On view will be paintings with sound elements from her Warchestra series, digital photography, and installation, as well as her handmade canvas artist books. One book, Souls Land Closing, includes her photographs taken in Iraq from 2004 and 2009. Aerial photographs of the Iraqi landscape between Baghdad and Basra are collaged with young men in flight, while other pages show images of Baghdad's beauty and its beasts: monuments, palm trees, resilient people, military occupation and devastating destruction. It functions as a counter-image to much of what was shown at the time about Iraq by mainstream media. Abdul Hadi says “it also presents a personal quest for identity and belonging, representing the symbolic closing of a chapter, of acceptance, and healing.”
Tamara Abdul Hadi’s photography takes her all over the globe, especially documenting communities in the Arab World. Abdul Hadi's work explores the complexity and idiosyncrasy of minority communities that are often subjected to stereotyping and underrepresentation interchangeably. Valley of Peace is a cemetery located in Najaf, a province in the Western part of Central Iraq. This vast cemetery, with over 5 million people buried in it, is the largest and one of the oldest cemetery in the world. The cemetery is home to generations of Iraqis and Shias and has witnessed centuries of turmoil.
Abdul Hadi says that “the symbolic value of the cemetery's name nestled in a nation so overcome by war is what compelled this series. I realized how I could try to use my work– as a documentary photographer – to challenge the preconceived notions that people have of the Arab world; the notion that all Arabs are Muslims, all women are veiled and have no rights within their society, all men are macho, violent, angry oppressors that control their women, and so on. This show is significant in today’s charged political climate when we really need to work to build bridges, challenge the narratives being cycled and talk about a region that is full of love, culture, and creation.”