Virtual exhibit: UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage

Date(s) - 01/01/2020 - 12/31/2020
All Day

School Of Human Ecology


UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage is now available to view online.

A selection from Unpacked, suitcase hanging from wall containing 3D scene. Image courtesy of

A selection from Unpacked, suitcase hanging from wall containing 3D scene. Image courtesy of

UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage seeks to humanize the word “refugee.” This multimedia exhibit features the sculptures of Mohamad Hafez, a Syrian-born, Connecticut-based artist and architect who re-creates war-torn domestic interiors within suitcases. Each piece is based on interviews with refugees who were forced to leave their homes in countries ranging from Syria and Afghanistan, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and who now reside in the United States. As visitors view Hafez’s sculptures, they can both hear and read these recorded interviews, which were collected by Iraqi-born Wesleyan University student, writer, and speaker, Ahmed Badr. Included in the series are Hafez and Badr’s own stories, which detail Hafez’s inability to return to Syria, and the bomb that entered Badr’s family home.

Pieces from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection will be placed in dialogue with UNPACKED, which provides a unique opportunity to reinterpret the School of Human Ecology holdings. In this accompanying display, textiles represent three distinct categories: items that are thematically related to Hafez and Badr’s work, making traditions endangered by war, and objects made by refugees. A significant portion of this material will be exhibited for the first time, including metallic Syrian “aghabbani” silks, a monumental woven and embroidered Southern Iraqi rug with vibrant colors and motifs, and exceptional Cambodian ikat raw silk wrapped garments. Of particular note are Hmong Story Cloths, which depict individuals escaping war and that create important connections to Wisconsin’s diverse Hmong communities.

A variety of programs will be held in conjunction with the exhibition’s sponsoring partner, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Middle East Studies Program. A conference on the topic of refugees in and from the Middle East will take place on March 6 and 7, 2020, during which Hafez will address UNPACKED.

UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage will be on view in the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery from February 5 – April 3, 2020.

Contact for questions about the event: Laura Sims Peck,, 608-262-3623

Location: Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, Room 1235 | Online

To view all exhibits that the Center for Design and Material Culture has converted to virtual shows, please visit the School of Human Ecology events calendar.

View the show’s original press release and high-resolution images of select items featured in the exhibition.

Related programming

Opening Reception & Story Sharing, Tours with Natalie Wright | February 6, 2020 | 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Join the School of Human Ecology with the Middle East Studies Program and Open Doors for Refugees in celebrating the opening of UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage in the Center for Design and Material Culture’s Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery. Visitors are encouraged to share objects or images of objects that you either brought with you when you migrated the United States or would bring with you if you had just thirty minutes to pack and leave your home. Natalie Wright will offer tours of the exhibit during the reception. All are welcome to join us in conversation. More info.

CommUniversity Session: “Nonprofits and the Refugee Experience” | March 5, 2020 | 5:00-7:30 p.m.

The UW Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies (the “CommNS”) and the Center for Design and Material Culture will co-host a special “CommUniversity” session on March 5th, 2020, focused on the intersection of the nonprofit sector and the refugee experience. More info.

Keynote Lecture: Mohamad Hafez | March 6, 2020 | 4:00-7:00 p.m.

Hafez’s presentation is the keynote for the international conference “Refugees in/from the Middle East,” hosted by the Middle East Studies Program from March 6-7, 2020. The talk is at 4pm on Friday, March 6th, followed by tours of the exhibition and a reception. More info.