Unsettled Nostalgia, A Solo Exhibition
Mohamad Hafez (1984) was born in Damascus, raised in Saudi Arabia, and educated in the United States. A New Haven based architect, Hafez uses plaster, rigid foam, paint and found objects to create three dimensional architectural streetscapes, installations and wall murals of his native Syria that are deeply personal, photorealistic and surreal. Expressing the juxtaposition of East and West within him, Hafez’s art represents the urban fabric of the Middle East, and serves as a backdrop for his own political and social expression.
The exhibition opens on January 30 and runs through February 27, 2016 at the harts gallery, 20 Bank Street, New Milford, Connecticut.
Mohamad Hafez believes that architecture is the physical indicator of a city’s prosperity and paradoxically, the obvious physical indicator of devastation. Responding to the atrocities of the Syrian war, much of his work draws parallels between the heavy military presence in the Middle East and the demolished lives and infrastructure beneath that presence.
In deliberate contrast to the violence, however, his art imbues a subtle hopefulness through the incorporation of verses from the Qur’an. These verses are at the core of Hafez’s vision, endeavouring to kindle hope and raise spirits in the midst of so much devastation. Scenes reiterate narratives from the Qur’an in order to affirm that, even during the darkest of times, patience is necessary for the blossoming of life, and eventually, justice will prevail. Hafez is deeply interested in a cross-disciplinary exploration of street art and realistic (yet ironic) sculptural representation. He purposefully draws a contrast between the scenes he creates and the messages contained in them.
These messages could be verses from the Qur’an or sound recordings from his own pre-war trips to Syria. The strength of Hafez’s work is that it immerses viewers in the present while simultaneously taking them on a trip to the not-so-distant past: pre-war Damascus, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Recreating ancient neighbourhoods that no longer exist with astounding accuracy, and without inhabitants, Hafez sheds light on one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern day history; a crisis so grim that many choose not to acknowledge it and can no longer bear witness to its daily atrocities.
“Praise be to God…” Used in prosperous times and also in times of difficulty, Hafez was always attracted to the will power needed to pronounce such a phrase in hard times. He pays homage to the strength of civilians forced to shelter in decrepit structures targeted daily by bombs, or torn tents in the middle of the Arabian desert, travelling halfway across the globe to piece together what has been left of their lives. “Praise be to God…” the simple words coming out of a mother that has just lost all her children in an air strike. The irony adds a deeper meaning to existence and a deep respect to strong, enduring souls during times of calamity. In Arab culture, when anemone blossoms out of battlefields, it is said to represent the bloodshed by martyrs fighting for freedom. The rich red colour of the flowers emerges from the rubble in Hafez’s cities, instigating remembrance of the precious price of change, and leaving a glimmer of hope for tomorrow.
the harts gallery is an artist-run space focused on building community and inspiring transformation regionally through an eclectic mix of contemporary art exhibitions, workshops, artist residencies, live performances and community programming. Headed by filmmakers, photographers and activists Carmen Elsa Lopez and Evan Abramson, the gallery functions as a venue for the sale of contemporary art as well as a non-profit organization, providing a gathering space that does not yet exist in our region, where community can form around the common values of creativity, vision, sustainability and collaboration.