Iraqi-Canadian mom, daughters paint new picture of Arab communities

The collective art exhibit, called Generation, combines the voices of three women: a mother and her two daughters.

Family art exhibit, Generation, sheds light on Arab identities and media misrepresentation towards communities

A family of artists Sundus and Tamara Abdul Hadi and mother Sawsan Al Saraf (Cinq à Six)

In a world of art, inspiration doesn't come easy. But for sisters Sundus and Tamara Abdul Hadi who grew up surrounded by music and painting, a career in the arts was a natural choice.

After more than a decade of independent painting and photography projects, two Iraqi-Canadian sisters joined forces with their mother, Sawsan Al Saraf, also a multimedia artist, to launch their first collective exhibit Generation.

A view of the Generation exhibit. (Submitted by Sundus Abdul Hadi)

"This is something that my father planted as a seed," Sundus Abdul Hadi told Cinq à Six host, Nantali Indongo.

"He looked at us, we were sitting and talking about art, and he said, 'You need to do a group show, all together.'"
Sundus Abdul Hadi's painting "The Forgotten" (2008) at the Generation exhibit. (Submitted by Sundus Abdul Hadi)

Sundus and Tamara spent their early years in Abu Dhabi and Montreal, but their work has always had a connection to their Iraqi heritage.

With Generation on display at the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia, the two generations of women hope to build a visual conversation about displacement and the representation of Arab communities.
Sawsan Al Saraf's painting from the series Behar Al Jame'e (Submitted by Sawsan Al Saraf)

According to youngest sister, Sundus, the museum's goal is to reach out to Savannah's growing Arab population and recent refugees to create a space for engagement.

As a part of the museum's initiative, big sister, Tamara, facilitated an art workshop in Arabic, a first in the museum's 134 years of existence.

For the three families that participated, the Arabic language was a way to communicate with each other, Stephanie Raines, the museum's Interpretation and Audience Engagement Coordinator told CBC.

Correcting misrepresentation through visual narrative

The main motivation for the multimedia installation Generation was to create a space for discussions about belonging, identity, and the representation of Arab communities.

With her 2007-2010 Warchestra Series and 2011 Arab Winter, Sundus Abdul Hadi aimed to open a conversation about the post-war life in the Arab world and highlight the aspects ignored by the mainstream media.

The paintings from both of these projects are now included in Generation.

Tamara Abdul Hadi's photograph from series Picture an Arab Man. (Tamara Abdul Hadi)

"I saw this as my duty to really do something about it as an artist [and] to start recording the events that media ignored or events that media misrepresented and try to correct them," Sundus Abdul Hadi said.

Tamara Abdul Hadi's photograph from series Picture an Arab Man. (Tamara Abdul Hadi)

Her sister Tamara Abdul Hadi tackles similar issues of misrepresentation by focusing on the portrayal of Arab men.

Based in Beirut, the documentary photographer travelled around the Middle East during 2009-2014 and depicted them "in a more gentle way," similar to how she saw her father and uncles.

Her goal was to change the visual narrative of violence and oppression surrounding Arab men in the media.

The two sisters and their mother hope to bring Generation to Montreal and continue building a common narrative of displacement and Arab identity.

Art is a part of who we are, a part of our family.-   Sundus   Abdul   Hadi

"There is something really in common between us, there is this engagement between our work," Sawsan Al Saraf said about the exhibit Generation.

"Seeing all of those conversations being physically manifested in the space — that was really special for me," Sundus Abdul Hadi said.

"Because art is a part of who we are, a part of our family."

With files from CBC's Cinq à Six