Blue Baggage
Blue Baggage

Untitled Baggage #3

2016

Plaster, paint, antique suitcase, found objects, rusted metal, wood, Persian carpet, dried plants

24" x 12" x 8"

With his Baggage series, Hafez creates visual models of life narratives experienced by refugees of war. The suitcase is often emblematic of the cosmopolitan jet-setter who travels light in a globalized world and “carries their life in a suitcase." In Hafez’s rendering, however, the suitcase references the backpacks of Syrians fleeing war with only their bare necessities; refugees travel light not for ease or efficiency, but because their journeys are so dangerous and arduous. They fear detention and stray bullets, deprivation of food and water. Their fates are often in the hands of smugglers who routinely exploit them, promising safety for a price, but then squeezing them onto boats and fitting them with faulty, deadly life jackets. Smugglers often force refugees to shed whatever meager belongings they are carrying with them, tossing bags to pack the boats tighter with people or frantically dumping extra weight once the boats begin leaking.

 

Hafez utilizes the suitcase (a contained format reminiscent of his earlier Facades) to explore both the politics and personal losses of compulsory departure. Rendered in azure blue and gilded gold, this detailed set piece references what is relinquished and left behind. This scene is bereft of human presence yet alludes to state security practices in the surveillance camera at left. The camera alludes to the required disclosure of one’s belongings and history at the border. The camera’s ominous witnessing is emphasized through the repetition of circular forms, from the wall’s mural to the jutting voids of broken pipes-- reinforcing the idea of an omnipresent “eye.”

 

When surveillance is conflated with security, how is space made (un)suitable for certain forms of life?

A digital program, with student curated research materials, for the exhibition Critical Refuge: Sculptures by Mohamad Hafez on view at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, August 30 - December 20, 2017.

This project is generously sponsored by the YALE Digital Humanities Laboratory, the Council on Middle East Studies, the Public Humanities Program and the Whitney Humanities Center.