Assemblage: An Art Series on Identity, Memory, and Displacement

This is part of our special feature on Forced Migration, Cultural Identity, and Trauma.


“Assemblage” reflects interdisciplinary aesthetic practices that call attention to displacement as a disruption in the continuity of place, relationships, identity, movement, memory, and time resulting in a collage of preserved artifacts and mediated possibilities. The series juxtaposes the streetscapes of Syrian-American artist and architect Mohamad Hafez, the mixed media collisions of Iranian-American artist Sheida Soleimani, the digital prints of Iraqi-French artist Haider Wady, and the interactive installations of Israeli-born, Berlin-based director and drama therapist Ilil Land-Boss. Through resettled media, each artist contemplates the psychological, social, and physical effects of forced migration. In so doing, they render visible the layered impact of political violence on cultural identity and coexistence.

—Nisha Sajnani for EuropeNow


Baggage Series by Mohamad Hafez

Baggage Series 1, Plaster, Paint, Antique Suitcase, Found Objects, Rusted Metal, Wood, Persian Carpet, Dried Plant, 24 x 16 x 10 in

Baggage Series 2, Plaster, Paint, Antique Suitcase, Found Objects, Rusted Metal, Wood, Persian Carpet, 24 x 24 x 12 in

Baggage Series 4, Plaster, Paint, Antique suitcase, Found Objects, Rigid Foam, 30 x 30 x 48


Mohamad Hafez is a Syrian born artist residing in New Haven, CT who combines found objects, paint, and scrap metal to respond to the atrocities of the Syrian war. Hafez’s work depicts cities besieged by civil war to capture the magnitude of the devastation and to expose the fragility of human life. However, in deliberate contrast to the violence of war, his art imbues a subtle hopefulness through its deliberate incorporation of verses from the Holy Qur’an.


National Anthem by Sheida Soleimani

Revolutionary Guard, archival pigment print, 24 x 17 inches, 2015

Geography of the Refugees, archival pigment print, 24 x 17 inches, 2015

Geography of the Refugees, archival pigment print, 24 x 17 inches, 2015


Sheida Soleimani is an Iranian-American artist, currently residing in Providence, Rhode Island. The daughter of political refugees that were persecuted by the Iranian government in the early 1980’s, Soleimani inserts her own critical perspectives on historical and contemporary socio-political occurrences in Iran. Soleimani’s series National Anthem explores Iran’s turbulent past and present through still life and self portrait. “Recognizing the cultural dualities in my upbringing” she says “my work explores identity formed by personal memories and stories my parents expressed to me as a child. In the 1979 Iranian Revolution, my father was a political activist against the Ayatollah’s totalitarian regime, and was suppressed for his pro-democratic beliefs. In return, my mother was imprisoned and tortured while the government tried to learn about my father’s whereabouts. Through the changing of dictators within the past 35 years of Iranian political history, the national anthem of the country has been changed 3 times: each time suiting the more oppressive regime that came into power. In my photographic scenarios, cultural symbols and signifiers are appropriated to create mash-ups with regard to my position as an Iranian-American viewing the Middle East from an outside lens.” Her works meld sculpture, collage, and photography to create collisions in reference to Iranian politics throughout the past century. By focusing on media trends and the dissemination of societal occurrences through the news, source images from popular press and social media leaks are adapted to exist within alternate scenarios.


Untitled Series by Haider Wady

Untitled, digital print, Procreate for iPad and Photoshop

Untitled, digital print, Procreate for ipad and Photoshop


Haider Wady was born in Baghdad, Iraq and currently resides in Lyon, France. He creates digital prints and mixed media metal sculptures which reflect the broad theme of immigration and which explore opposing forces such as flight versus stagnation, ascent versus descent, lightness versus weight, and freedom versus closed circuits. His imagery often contains the illusion of wings on forms with heavy limbs.

Seven Rooms of the Incomprehensible by Ilil Land-Boss

Game Room, Amsterdam, Netherlands, digital photograph

Game Room, Jena, Germany, digital photograph


Ilil Land-Boss is an actress, performer, theatre director, certified drama therapist, and lecturer in theatre, theatre pedagogy, and drama therapy. She was born in 1980 in Tel Aviv, Israel and currently resides in Berlin, Germany. Her artistic practice takes up collective trauma, conflict, and notions of rituality. In Seven Rooms of the Incomprehensible (Sieben Räume Unbegreifen), Land-Boss collaborated with Giselle Vegter to design an interactive installation through which audience members confronted their own complicity in genocide. The project investigated universal mechanisms of group conformity, exclusion and humiliation, and examined the resources that enable people to exercise resistance. In the Game Room, local audiences were asked to consider their own position vis a vis notions of otherness. Their responses prompted movements on a grid that seem to reduce the enormity of mass atrocity and the search for asylum into a series of singular choices while disrupting attempts at reason by compelling collisions between bodies sharing restricted space.

Nisha Sajnani (Curator), PhD is a Canadian-born multimedia artist and drama therapist whose work explores identity, memory, ethics, and place through photography, digital projection, and performance. Recent works include Mapping Home: A Global Crisis of Place co-curated with Oscar Palacio (2016); Lives That Matter (2015), an ethnodrama examining racism, identity politics, and hashtag activism; and Under Pressure (2014), a performance collage featuring community responses to the Boston Marathon bombing. She is the Director of Global Interdisciplinary Studies; Coordinator of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Drama Therapy MA program, and Fellow of the Institute for Arts and Health at Lesley University. She is also on faculty with the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma and New York University. Dr. Sajnani coordinates an international network on the arts and displacement.


Published on February 1, 2017.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email