For more than a year, I’ve been working on Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture’s (Dis)Placed Philadelphia project. It has been one of the most interesting and rewarding projects that I’ve ever worked on. The project gave me the opportunity to work with some really great people and to meet people with incredible stories.
As one of the culminating aspects of the project, international muralist eL Seed did a short artist residency. He visited Philadelphia for about a week and a half back in November 2017 to paint a new mural. Entitled “The Soul of the Black Bottom,” the mural is at the corner of Market and Preston Streets in West Philadelphia. Using his signature “calligraffiti” style, eL Seed painted an Arabic translation of a quote from W.E.B. Du Bois on two buildings. He also painted an Arabic translation of “The Soul of the Black Bottom,” on the right side of the wall as a commemoration of the historic Black community that lived in the area. “Urban renewal” projects by the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and The University of the Sciences displaced the The Black Bottom starting back in the 1960s.
I documented eL Seed’s residency for Al-Bustan, along with serving a role in other parts of the project. You can watch the short video above that captures the painting of the mural. Mural Arts Philadelphia also supported this phase of the project.
More about (Dis)Placed Philadelphia
(Dis)Placed Philadelphia is project that explores identity in transition, by bringing together the voices of people in the Philadelphia area that have experienced some form of displacement in their lives. For one year, writer Ann de Forest and I collected stories and photographs (and one video) of the twelve participants in the project. The participants ranged from refugees from Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Tajikistan, to an immigrant activist from Honduras, to a stateless person from Kuwait, to residents of the West Philadelphia neighborhood once known as “The Black Bottom.” Ann wrote the twelve stories about each individual or family that participated, and I did the photography. In a few cases we had to protect the identity of some participants, and instead of photographing them, I photographed objects that symbolized aspects of their stories or journeys.
Al-Bustan then commissioned four artists to create original works based on the stories and images that Ann and I collected. Lebanese poet, Nazem el Sayed wrote poetry based on the stories as well as his own experiences with displacement, having grown up during Lebanon’s civil war. Syrian cellist and composer, Kinan Abou-afach, is currently working on a series of musical compositions inspired by the stories. A final performance of his work will take place on March 11, and a CD will be forthcoming as well. Also, Nazem will share his final poetry work “I Roll This Darkness Like a Tire” at the March 11 event too. Muralist, eL Seed, created “The Soul of the Black Bottom,” as mentioned above. And Syrian visual artist, Buthayna Ali, was also supposed to do an artist residency during the summer of 2017. However, President Trump’s travel ban prevented her from getting a visa. Buthayna did some virtual art workshops since she was not able to come to the U.S.
Over the course of the project, Al-Bustan held several public events. There were three public forums to share the progress of the project, to bring the participants together, and to get public involvement in the project. Also, Al-Bustan held two refugee meet-and-greets to both welcome refugees to the U.S., as well as help connect them to social services. Back in October, Kinan Abou-afach performed his work in progress as well as music by other composers at Trinity Center for Urban Life. The video below has a few excerpts from the concert.
The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage provided major support for (Dis)Placed Philadelphia.