In July 2016, a unique collaboration was formed which brought together a Syrian refugee, an Israeli artist, an Iraqi artist, and a Russian artist/professor to use an unconventional space as a safe creative place to explore, share, and make new works now on exhibition at Leichtag Commons.
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How it all Started
This summer, Israeli artist and TED Fellow Raffael Lomas spent a few weeks at Leichtag Commons preparing for an exhibition at the New American Museum for his project “8000 Paperclips and one Skype Call” that will also be hosted here for the Sukkot Harvest Festival.
8,000 paperclips is about Sudanese refugees who grew up Israeli, were deported to Sudan and forced to flee to Uganda, and there - through Raffael - formed a connection to the Ugandan Jewish (Abayudaya) community. Watch the film.
The North County Hub’s Ecosystem
During his visit, Raffael spent time in the North County Hub, meeting with nonprofit grantees of Leichtag Foundation involved in refugee resettlement in San Diego, such as Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans and Jewish Family Service of San Diego.
He considered a way he could integrate with their work while contributing to this community artistically.
A Creative “Maker’s Space” for Refugees
Through these encounters, Raffael had an idea of using the unused Barn 8, which sits at the highest point of Leichtag Commons with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, as a creative space for refugees.
Using only unused material found on site, he began to create a more welcoming creative space.
Through the creative ecosystem of our nonprofit hub, Raffael met Abdullah, a recently resettled Syrian refugee. Only in America for 2 months, Abdullah speaks no English, has a wife and 4 children, two of whom have severe disabilities. When he lived in Syria, Abdullah made crown moldings for ceilings, and brought with him to America a catalogue showing his work. Raffael visited Abdullah and his family at their apartment and brought Za’atar and tahini.
Raffael invited Abdullah and his family to visit Coastal Roots Farm, to spend a day relaxing on the farm, to pick, forage, and taste. Our translators were Iman Bakour of Jewish Family Service of San Diego and her 14 year old daughter, Sama, and together they named the plants growing in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Watch Abdullah’s story on NBC7 San Diego.
They went up to Barn 8 and together made a fattoush salad.
Beginning a New Work
Raffael asked Abdullah to return, and they would begin to work together a few times over the next 10 days.
Just before Raffael left, we introduced Abdullah and his daughters to the Leichtag Foundation staff.
Creating a Sustainable Project
Knowing it would be difficult to continue this project from afar, Raffael sought out San Diego-based refugees and immigrants with artistic backgrounds to come together and support each other.
This introduced us to Adeeb Makki, an Iraqi immigrant and skilled painter who has lived in the US for 10 years, and Olga Workman, a Russian immigrant and professor of art and photography who has lived in the US for 20 years.
With Raffael’s trip to the US over, these 3 have come together to support each other, drive each other, and begin on a new collaborative work. They meet twice a week and on Saturdays they Skype with Raffael from his village in Israel.
Together, they visited the San Diego Museum of Art and brought Abdullah’s family along. Abdullah and his family had never been in an art museum before.
Though he does not identify as an “artist,” Abdullah has brought creativity and vision to their first collaborative sculpture — a “tree” built with only reclaimed materials. Though the original eucalyptus had been cut into pieces, this tree will grow again.
Welcoming the Stranger
An Art Exhibition about “Homes” at Sukkot Harvest Festival
These three artists are collaborated and created their own artistic works related to the theme of “Home” for this year’s Sukkot Harvest Festival. Sukkot is the Jewish agricultural festival of ingathering. We build temporary huts — “sukkot” — to recall when the Jewish people lived as refugees. In these temporary homes, we live, eat, and sleep outside, and we are obligated to welcome the stranger.
The exhibition posed the following questions: What does “home” mean when you are a refugee, immigrant, guest, or host? What can creativity teach us about welcoming the stranger? Where can this act of radical hospitality lead?