UNSEENAMERICA: Arab Women in Brooklyn
A Project of Bread and Roses 1199SEIU

Wednesday, September 10th 2008
Opening Reception and Reading 6 - 8 pm
Heather Raffo, playwright and actress, will read from her play "Nine Parts of Desire."

UNSEENAMERICA: Arab Women in Brooklyn, began as a 12 week photography workshop taught as part of UNSEENAMERICA, a nation-wide, community-based arts and social justice program. Run by Bread and Roses, a 29-year old organization dedicated to bringing cultural experiences to the disenfranchised, the program transforms ordinary people into artists with cameras, encouraging them to document and describe their worlds through photography and original texts.

Arab women now living in Brooklyn, recent immigrants from Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan, participated in the workshop to learn to take photos of their lives. The class was held this past spring at the Arab American Family Support Center (AAFSC). During the course of the workshop, participants were loaned digital cameras and taught by photographer Shari Diamond, how to use them. They were given hands-on instruction and encouraged to turn their lenses on themselves and their lives. What emerges from their work is a powerful representation of their lives and communities..

Our society has been engrained with prejudice and bias for ages. Since 9/11 our ill informed biases have increased, particularly against the Muslim and Arab communities. The history of community arts in the United States has shown that the arts provide a non-threatening, community-building forum for disparate groups to work together in harmony. All art forms, including photography, can foster acceptance and appreciation of differences. This UNSEENAMERICA project has empowered the downtown Brooklyn Arab community by providing the space and tools and support they need to represent themselves using a common language of photography. The images produced are not for the sake of the image itself, but also for social transformation and education. A greater understanding of our similarities and differences will enhance both the creators and the viewer’s lives. Susan Sontag eloquently described the strength of photography as a universal language when she said, “In contrast to the written account--which, depending on its complexity of thought, reference, and vocabulary, is pitched at a larger or smaller readership-- a photograph has only one language and is destined potentially for all."

More than 700 UNSEENAMERICA classes have been held to date. Based on the premise that being seen is the prelude to being heard, the goal of UNSEENAMERICA is to fill a void in the representation of diverse faces, stories, and voices in our nation’s democracy.

This project is sponsored, in part, by the Greater New York Arts Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, administered by the Brooklyn Arts Council, Inc. (BAC), Parsons The New School For Design 2008-09 Faculty Development Fund, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts and other funders.

Heather Raffo is the recipient of a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Special Commendation and the Marian Seldes-Garson Kanin Fellowship for 9 Parts of Desire. Most recently she has received a 2005 Lucille Lortel award for Best Solo show as well as an Outer Critics Circle Nomination and a Drama League nomination for Outstanding Performance. Heather first performed 9 Parts of Desire in August 2003 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. It later moved to the Bush Theatre in London's Off-West End, where critics hailed it as one of the five best plays in London in late 2003. 9 Parts of Desire was then developed and performed as a reading at The Public Theatre as part of their New Work Now festival in Spring 2004. Its New York premiere took place in the fall of 2004 at the Manhattan Ensemble Theater, where the show ran for nine sold out months. In 2005 the play began touring the U.S. at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Following are new productions at Berkeley Rep, Seattle Rep, The Wilma Theatre and Arena Stage in D.C. as well as international productions.

Oded Halahmy, an Iraqi American sculptor and thirty-seven year resident of SoHo founded the Pomegranate Gallery as a catalyst for international artistic dialogue. “As an artist born in Baghdad, it is very exciting for me to bring works by contemporary Iraqi artists to New York City,” explains Halahmy. As an artist whose modernist sculptures appear in the Guggenheim, the Hirschhorn, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Halahmy offers compelling reasons and uncanny ability to introduce Americans to serious artistic initiatives from the Middle East. “Americans are becoming increasingly international in their art collecting.” But Halahmy also hopes that his gallery “will serve as a cultural ambassador to awaken American consciousness of Middle Eastern Art.” Baghdad, the cradle of civilization, has historically been viewed as the cultural capitol of the Middle East and primary innovator in the fine arts. The fact that the artists of Baghdad continued to create at the height of the insurgency is nothing short of astounding.

Future exhibitions will continue to feature innovative contemporary art from all of the countries of the Middle East. In addition to contemporary visual art, he has featured readings by authors and poets, as well as musical performances, dance and film. “Although we are all from different ethnic groups, our objective is to encourage all forms of art as an effective long-term means of fostering the peace dialogue. If we all recognize that the arts can be a powerful unifier of disparate cultures, the chance for peace in Iraq, the Middle East, and around the world will be greatly enhanced,” says Halahmy.

The gallery is supported in part by the Oded Halahmy Foundation for the Arts, a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural organization created to fund original artistic expressions that will promote a greater cultural understanding of the Middle East, thereby fostering peace and hope around the world. The Foundation has already supported a number of Middle Eastern writers and poets by bringing their translated books to the American audience.

Also on view: Contemporary Iraqi Art from the Gallery collection. Catalogue available. Gallery is open by appointment only during August; please call or e-mail to schedule an appointment.

Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
133 Greene Street
NY, NY 10012