Al Mudhif – A Confluence

Curator / Program Director: Tina Plokarz
May 30, 2021 – May 30, 2022

Al Mudhif – A Confluence was an outdoor art installation by environmental artist Sarah Kavage & designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi with an accompanying gallery exhibition at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia. The monumental Iraqi guesthouse Al Mudhif was part of the tri-state public art initiative Lenapehoking~Watershed, commissioned by The Alliance for Watershed Education.

The outdoor art installation was the first of such structures built outside of Iraq and in North America. Typically, mudhifs are entirely made out of phragmites, a perennial wetland grass, that is culturally and environmentally important to the marshlands in Southern Iraq. Yet this abundant reed is considered invasive throughout the US. Made of bundles of these invasive reeds from the region, Al Mudhif became a confluence of waters and voices metaphorically connecting the marshlands of Iraq with the Delaware River watershed and literally bringing together Iraqi, American, and Native American communities.

Al Mudhif created both a springboard for environmental education that challenged bias concepts of nature and vegetable geographies, and a communal space for intercultural dialogue about belonging and healing of plants and people in times of crisis.

The accompanying group exhibition in the gallery reflected on the concepts of belonging and sanctuary. Through the lenses of creative voices of art and activism, war experience, and indigenous resilience, the exhibition offered a place for reconciliation across cultures and countries. It featured artworks by Drew Cameron of Combat Paper, Meridel Rubenstein, art collective Justseeds, Tailinh Agoyo, Tchin; audio recordings by U.S. veterans, Iraqis, and Native Americans reflecting on war and sanctuary (including Moral Injury of War project); and documentary photography by Rob Zverina, Sarah Kavage, and Raad Habeeb Al Asadi, and other participants during Al Mudhif’s construction.

A publication is forthcoming in 2024, capturing the diverse voices of the project and its unique journey. 

Lead funding for Lenapehoking~Watershed was provided by the William Penn Foundation (administered by the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education). Al-Mudhif – A Confluence was further supported by the Knight Foundation, the Barra Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation and the Velocity Fund.

As curator of the Environmental Art program at the Schuylkill Center and Senior Project Strategist for the art initiative, I lead the project’s curatorial, financial and logistical efforts, including also the development and implementation of the event series Sowing Seeds.

More Information on the exhibition and its events here.

Press Highlights

Connecting to Nature Through Art. Greenworks Philadelphia (p.50–52) by Tina Plokarz, April 2022.

An Installation built to bridge barriers between people and nature. Weavers Way, The Shuttle (p.13) by Tina Plokarz, October 2021.

On 9/11 anniversary, veterans and refugees seek healing through nature, art, and heart-to-heartPhiladelphia Inquirer by Kevin Riordan, September 11, 2021.

Iraqi guesthouse welcomes community to new environmental center in Roxborough.
6ABC News by Ashley Johnson, June 23, 2021.

Refugees and war veterans are building a piece of Iraq in Philadelphia. INSIDER by Charles Davis, June 10, 2021.

Iraqi veterans and Iraqi immigrants build a traditional house of reeds in Philadelphia. WHYY by Peter Crimmins, May 30, 2021.

Event Series Sowing Seeds

Al Mudhif – A Renewal was a ceremonial de-installation of Al Mudhif with Iraqi immigrants, US veterans, and the public alongside the artists and Chaplain Chris Antal of the Veterans Association.

Cultural Roots: Jewish-Iraqi Food and Conversation was a food workshop and conversation with Jewish-Iraqi cuisine with chef Annabel Rabiyah of Awafi Kitchen (Boston) and Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz.

* Reconnection – A Healing Hike was a meditative hike, breathing exercise and tea gathering in partnership with Hike+Heal that welcome members of the African-American community.

Reconciliation – A Healing Encounter with Jack Saul (Trauma Psychologist and project director of Moral Injuries), Elizabeth Ellman (Assistant Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at the Schuylkill Center) and Yaroub Al-Obaidi (artist). Report from healing through nature, art, and heart-to-heartPhiladelphia Inquirer by Kevin Riordan.