Architect Mohamad Hafez is horrified at the destruction of his home country, Syria. He’s been in the United States for more than a decade and now uses sculpture as a way to tell the story of his disappearing homeland. Hafez is one of the artists featured at this weekend’s City-Wide Open Studios in New Haven.
Mohamad Hafez combs through mosaic tiles the size of pennies.
“This little bucket of marble cubes, colored marble cubes, there is a piece of Damascus, there is a piece of our history in each of my work,” Hafez says.
These tiles were given to Hafez by his brother-in-law. They’re the last pieces of a tile factory he owned outside Damascus.
His brother-in-law “was a practicing architect building beautiful villas. Among his family, just like any of us living our lives...and life switched. Just like that.”
Hafez’s brother-in-law feared for his life and fled to Sweden. His home is now an abandoned school-turned-refugee center.
“Seeing him go from here to there really has shook me.” Hafez says his artwork completely changed after that. It focuses on Syrians living under attack day-to-day or fleeing for their safety.
The tiles his brother-in-law gave him are now part of his latest sculpture that transports visitors to Aleppo. It’s a four-foot-by-four-foot plaster model of an apartment building inspired by the bombings there. The facade is blown off, so you can peer into each room like a dollhouse.
A neat stack of the tiles stands in front of the building as if someone had deliberately put them there.
“It is obvious that there are kids still playing in this rubble. Playing games and trying to keep their life. Because this is not how stone falls apart right?”
Hafez says this piece is about the resiliency of Syrians – they make games out of rubble. And love their home so much, they stay until there’s almost nothing left.
“At lot of these refugees are not planning, okay let’s reestablish lives and they plan every bit of it. It comes down to…land is so precious. We’re not going to leave. And until a bomb falls literally two meters away from us, that we need to evacuate now.”
Hafez puts the finishing touches on his building by spray painting black char marks onto the walls – evidence of a bombing.
And as he works, Syrian music plays in the background.
The sculpture will be on view at City-Wide Open Studios in the Westville neighborhood of New Haven on Saturday and Sunday.