Weeks of planning from Al-Bustan’s staff led up to the (DIS)PLACED Arts Workshop on June 22nd. The theme of our (DIS)PLACED project is to highlight not only the physical reality of moving or immigration (whether through coercion or choice), but also the mental state or condition of being displaced. Over fifty people participated in the workshop, from a variety of backgrounds and with a great diversity of experience. All different age groups, ethnicities, nationalities, races, and religions were represented; the enormous diversity and plurality of experiences seemed to encourage increased connections and communication between different individuals.
What struck me the most was the fact that in a group with such divided experiences, almost everyone could reflect on and express their own emotions, thoughts, and experiences stemming from displacement. It has become clear to me over the course of this project that displacement is a universal condition of the human experience. My own life experiences have been shaped by displacement: First the displacement of my grandparents from Pakistan to Europe, and then that of my parents and I from Europe to America. Not everyone has experienced the forcible displacement that refugees in the Middle East and around the world are experiencing on a daily basis, however, being able to understand the feelings associated with displacement is a step towards developing the empathy to relate to their stories. This became tangible to me during the workshop.
Syrian installation artist Buthayna Ali had been invited to participate in a workshop with us during the summer months as an artist in residence, but the reality of the travel ban eventually made this impossible. This did not deter Al-Bustan from showcasing Ali’s work, and Ali helped participants engage with difficult themes and topics using her artistic process as a means of expression. She managed to present her work and lead the workshop by videoconference from Damascus against the odds. As I watched her interact with audience members in Philadelphia, a location where she was expressly forbidden from physically being by the current American administration, I felt that this was truly a symbol of artistic vision and exchange overcoming the bigotry and hate that divides our world today.
My final thoughts as I helped lead workshops and watched as audience members continued to engage with the challenging theme of displacement was the power of varying and diverse kinds of arts as modes of expression. Through music, poetry, and visual art, participants in the workshops were able to unlock and express their own narratives, as well as understand those of their fellow participants, bridging gaps in culture and experience.
Anisa Hasan-Graneir – Summer 2017 Intern, Sociology Major at the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020