Sticky Family: Artists Workshop with Yaroub Al-Obaidi + josh graupera


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In 2018, Swarthmore College received a 3-year Andrew W. Mellon grant “to support initiatives that explore the power of the arts and humanities to engage the imagination and enable communication across different viewpoints, experiences, and perspectives.” In the spirit of socially-engaged art, the project applied for and received the Mellon grant to continue to host conversations and build connections between Swarthmore campus community and the Syrian and Iraqi community members involved with this project. The art-based workshops that took place in Fall 2018, brought together a cohort of fifteen individuals - 5 project collaborators, 5 Swarthmore students, and 5 Swarthmore faculty/staff and was co-designed and co-facilitated by community liaison (and artist), Yaroub Al-Obaidi, and Philadelphia-based artist and activist, josh graupera. It began as an idea, that Yaroub had, to reimagine a notion of “family” that is inclusive beyond biological, temporal, and cultural boundaries. Yaroub stated:

This idea [“Sticky Families”] can be stories book or comic book also, the main concept is a family with many members and friends, from different ages and styles of thinking, this family has the ability to stick to things […] and of course the sticky can be with funny frame and there are so many situations for each family members or them friends or peoples in town. […] The stories in this book story or comic book comes from the peoples themselves […] and we can design the characters depends on peoples in FPS project. I believe this can be a nice workshop to build teamwork and everyone can feel that they are an important part and also this can gathering everybody in one stories book, also can be the trademark for Swarthmore College.


Workshop 1:

Yaroub and josh brought a bag filled with random objects from a pen to a SEPTA key card to a purchase from WAWA. The 15 participants were divided into groups and asked to select one of the objects to describe any associations they have with the object they chose. They could draw, write, or record audio. After sharing, new groups were formed to repeat the activity again with new people.

Workshop 2:

This workshop focused on character creation. Based on the “Exquisite Corpse” exercise, each participant created their own avatar, or idealized version of themselves first. Then, they worked in groups of 3 to create a second set of people. Building upon workshop 1, Yaroub and josh used the stories created in the first workshop to form a list of themes and buzz words that could be used as a foundation for creating new biographies for real and/or fictional characters became the basis for the cast and crew of the comic book.

Workshop 3:

Building upon the previous workshops, participants collaboratively wrote stories for each character in small groups.

Participants:

  • Ben Smith (Swarthmore Faculty/Staff)
  • Emily Paddon Rhoads (Swarthmore Faculty/Staff)
  • Alexandra Gueydan-Turek (Swarthmore Faculty/Staff))
  • Maria Aghazarian (Swarthmore Faculty/Staff)
  • Molly Lawrence (Swarthmore Faculty/Staff)
  • Dima Hanna (Swarthmore Faculty/Staff)
  • Victoria Lee-A-Yong (Swarthmore student)
  • Pauline McMurry (Swarthmore student)
  • Najla Nassar (Swarthmore student)
  • Martin Palomo (Swarthmore student)
  • Heewon Park (Swarthmore student)
  • Mohamed Okab (Project Collaborator)
  • Ali Salman (Project Collaborator)
  • Amaal Najar (Project Collaborator)
  • Mustafa (Project Collaborator family member)
  • Fadaa Ali (Project Collaborator)
  • Sarmad (Project Collaborator family member)
  • Abir AlArnab (Project Collaborator)
  • Asmaa Diab (Project Collaborator)
  • Hassan Muhtadi (Project Collaborator family member)

Select Feedback from Participants:

I have definitely come away changed. There is an overall culture of othering refugees and resettled people that, though I was aware of its existence, I didn’t realize that I had until I worked with people and realized that the barriers between us are not as large we’re led to believe.

It definitely increased my empathy whether it is toward my colleagues and students at the College, or whether toward the Iraqi and Syrian refugees we met. People shared with one another intimate stories that allowed us to perceive each other in a different light. I personally realized that, while my stories had a tendency to have a dark side to it, those in more precarious positions were able to relate to the same emotions while giving their stories some lightness and brightness. One participant, in particular, referenced mythical allegories (such as Galgamesh), Iranian poetry and Arab humor (through the protagonist of Djoha) so as to render a sense that, despite all the horror he lived, he remained alive, looking forward to his future and that of his family and friends in the US. This has touched me in such a way that I have been feeling more at peace and thankful for all the opportunities I received–as a recent and privileged immigrant to this country. The inquiries we pursued through the theme of the “sticky family” have also made me reflect on a deeper level on my own “family”/ network: I am myself an immigrant whose mother’s family came from an Arab country to France, before I decided to come to the US. My sense of loss (my parents are far away, and I never learnt to speak fluently Darija), is intimately intertwined with the growth this familial journey has allowed: I gained another culture, another language, and my family now extends past my bloodline…Friends (colleagues, neighbors, etc.) are now part of my support network as I am part of theirs. Of course, this was already the case before I participated in this series of workshops, yet allowing me to reflect on this with brothers and sisters who have also been displaced in one way or another was invaluable.

I have definitely come away changed. There is an overall culture of othering refugees and resettled people that, though I was aware of its existence, I didn’t realize that I had until I worked with people and realized that the barriers between us are not as large we’re led to believe.

The artists: josh graupera, Yaroub Al-Obaidi, and Eric Battle are interested in conducting a smiliar process with other groups. Reach out to the artists if you are you interested in recreating this workshop and creating a unique Sticky Family at your institution.

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