Stories of Iraqi Refugees Presented Through New Exhibit at Illinois Holocaust Museum
SKOKIE, IL[Tuesday, January 12, 2015]– Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center announces the Midwest premiere of What We Carried: Stories by Iraqi Refugees,a photographic exhibition that explores the possessions that Iraqi refugees cherished enough to bring on their journey to the United States. The exhibition will be on display at Illinois Holocaust Museum from January 24 – June 26, 2016, and will be available in both English and Arabic.
Over four million Iraqis have fled their homes since the American invasion in 2003, and over 140,000 have been admitted to the U.S. These refugees did not leave to get a better job or because of a natural disaster; they left because of a brutal dictator and warfare that had virtually destroyed their country. Behind the numbers are individuals with incredible stories of perseverance, stories that illustrate the struggle of uprooting lives and leaving families to search for safety.
“What We Carried presents such a relevant story and perspective to our Museum audience,” said Museum CEO Susan Abrams. “With the plight of refugees at the forefront of people’s minds, this exhibition sparks important conversations and programs. This exhibition also relates to the work we do every day, teaching the history and lessons of the Holocaust in a personal way, and applying those lessons to present day.”
The featured objects, photographed by award-winning Portland-based photographer Jim Lommasson, range from family photos to a Qur’an, from jewelry to a game of dominos. Refugees wrote their personal reflections directly on the printed photos before returning them to Lommasson, who then curated the exhibition.
“The participants’ additions give voice to the universal plight of refugees throughout time, making the prints breathtakingly poignant,” said Lommasson.
The opening event on January 24 will feature a panel discussion addressing contemporary refugee issues. Panelists include Youlena Zaia, Iraqi refugee and Director of Child and Family Services, Iraqi Mutual Aid Society; Jim Lommasson, photographer and curator; and Laura Youngberg, Executive Director, Iraqi Mutual Aid Society. Reservations required: www.ilholocaustmuseum.org/what-we-carried
“The hope is that exhibition visitors will imagine themselves making decisions about what they would gather before leaving their homes forever,” said Lommasson.
In partnership with the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, an exhibition of an additional ten photographs will be on display at the Daley Center Concourse Gallery located in the Pedway in Downtown Chicago from January 26 through April.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center uses the history and lessons of the Holocaust to honor the memories of those who were lost and to teach universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice and indifference. The Museum fulfills its mission through the exhibition, preservation and interpretation of its collections and by presenting educational programs and initiatives that foster the promotion of human rights and the elimination of genocide. The Museum is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.; Thursday evenings until 8:00 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Learn more at www.illinoisholocaustmuseum.org
Jim Lommasson is a freelance photographer and author living in Portland, Oregon. Lommasson received the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize from The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for his first book, Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice and The Will To Survive In American Boxing Gyms. In 2009, Oregon State University Press published Lommasson’s, Oaks Park Pentimento: Portland’s Lost and Found Carousel Art. Lommasson’s new book Exit Wounds: Soldiers’ Stories – Life After Iraq and Afghanistan and traveling exhibition is about American Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and their lives after their return from war. The book includes Lommasson’s photographs, interviews, and photographs by the participants. He is a 2012-2016 Oregon Humanities Conversation Project Grant Recipient for his public discussion “Life after War: Photography and Oral Histories of Coming Home.” Lommasson was awarded a Regional Arts and Culture Council Project Grant for his current project What We Carried.
What We Carried is a project by photographer Jim Lommasson in partnership with Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, Chicago.
What We Carried is an ongoing project in which Lommasson has worked with the Iraqi refugee communities in Boston; Portland; Dearborn, MI; Chicago; and hopes to include communities. Ultimately, all the photographs will be on display at the Arab American National Museum, Dearborn, MI, in the latter part of 2016.
Laura Youngberg joined the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society in June 2014 to serve as Executive Director. With fifteen years’ experience in the non-profit field, she holds a Master of Divinity degree from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College. Prior to IMAS, Laura served at nonprofits including Holy Family School, Health for Humanity, and Northwestern University. At IMAS, Laura is responsible for oversight of all programs and also works as Director of Adult Services to develop and supervise the case management, career development and adult education counseling programs specifically.
Youlena Zaia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering from Mosul University. She left Iraq with her son and daughter in 2005. After leaving Iraq, she worked for the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees and Sisters of the Good Shepherd Refugee Center in Damascus, Syria. Youlena came as a refugee to the United States in 2008. In the Chicago area, Ms. Zaia worked with the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation and with the Skokie School District. She volunteered with the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society before joining the staff in August 2014. At IMAS, Youlena is responsible for development of the Children’s Education Counseling Services and oversight of the Community Engagement Program. Her pieces in the collection include photographs from her university and early work days from a photo album her daughter insisted they bring when they left Iraq.