UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage debuts at Iowa State, bringing the stories of refugees to Ames


Gillian Holte/Iowa State Daily

Visitors listen to stories of refugees coming to America. The exhibit will be on display at the Christian Petersen Art Museum in Morill Hall from Sept. 4 to Oct. 19. 

Mike Brown

Refugee stories from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Congo were brought to the Christian Petersen Art Museum on Tuesday.

UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage is an exhibition put together by writer and former Iraqi refugee Ahmed Badr and nationally acclaimed artist and Iowa State alumnus Mohamad Hafez.

The exhibition features mixed media with audio clips from the refugees along with replicas of homes the refugees left behind in suitcases.

The suitcases and audio are also accompanied by written panels that further describe the refugees experiences leaving their home countries. 

Specifically, these panels detail the lives of the refugees after coming to the United States. For example, one individual accepted a job at Google, another pursued higher education and another became an architect.

Each scene showed a variety of different perspectives. One shows a car and home after a devastating fire and others show a sitting room and the destruction caused by the Syrian civil war.

Amber Abogunrin, senior in apparel merchandising and design, shared how the realistic nature of the exhibit made it more personal. 

“To see the realism and the amount of detail that the artist put into each story, making it very personal, that really stood out to me,” Abogunrin said.

Abogunrin also said the exhibition offered insight on how complex and varied the term refugee can be.

“Every story is different so you can’t look at it through the same lense,” Abogunrin said. “It’s a very multifaceted word in itself, so you have to have sensitivity when talking to a refugee or hearing their stories because you don’t know what they’ve been through, what they’ve lost, what they’ve gained, what they’ve had to sacrifice.” 

Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Congo were among the countries of origin represented by the refugees featured in the exhibition.

Sonya Harwood, a junior in anthropology, said that the exhibit is important for Iowa State students to see.

“At Iowa State we all come from different backgrounds and we all have different ideas of what it means to be a refugee and what that term means to us and what we think of, and I think this is a really good encompassing way to have people see the human side of refugees,” Harwood said.

Cameron Gray, graduate student in integrated visual arts, appreciated the empathy created by the exhibition.

“The empathy that he’s starting because of the [exhibition] is beautiful, of people understanding the strife,” Gray said. “In order for America to get to a better place and to almost redefine itself, in a sense, there has to be empathy.”

The exhibition will be shown at the Christian Petersen Art Museum until Oct. 19.

For more information on UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage, visit the LAS events page.