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Friday, February 03, 2023

Memorial Union exhibition depicts refugee struggles

In today’s news and politics, the topic of refugees and forced displacement is a common theme. Often displaying heartbreaking photos and stories of refugees fleeing their country and attempting to find another, safer home, the media attempts to display the hardship many people face today. However, artist Hesam Fetrati takes this image one step further. In his exhibition “Suspicious Suspension,” Fetrati illuminates the feelings of loss and anguish many refugees face through his surrealist pen drawings, offering a deeper glance into the emotions faced by numerous displaced people around the globe.

Building from his own experiences of transitioning from one culture to another, Fetrati attempts to give voice to displaced refugees, often silent members of society, and the manner in which he accomplishes this is both unbelievably beautiful and disturbingly chilling. Fetrati focuses heavily on the images of trees, dead fish and lost suitcases in this collection of surrealist pen drawings to convey themes that often surround displacement. In one piece titled “Utopia,” a churning sea full of open suitcases gives way to a rocky cliff with a Disney-esque castle and a large fish transporting refugees. Criticizing the false optimistic view of Western countries many people hold when they migrate from their countries of origin, the piece creates a sense of lost hope and helplessness in the viewer. In his three-piece work “Blindness Series,” Fetrati displays a progression of drawings showing refugees cutting out their eyes, sitting blindfolded in a pile of rubble and lost progress and finally, a cave full of blooming eyeballs. Perhaps exemplifying feelings of confusion numerous refugees face in a new country, as well as how they will never see their homelands again, the pieces are incredibly captivating. The other pieces of the exhibition follow these similar themes, and the interrelational complexity of all of these drawings is part of what makes them so compelling.

In addition, many works include small, almost imperceptible details. Almost unnoticeable, the miniscule drawings of the Sydney Opera House, lost suitcases, eyes and prominent Western cultural icons add increased depth to the drawings and pull the viewer in closer to examine the piece.

Graphic, brutal, and chilling, “Suspicious Suspension” is one of the most thought-provoking and emotionally rending art collections I have ever seen. Fetrati’s works are not for people looking for peaceful watercolors or soft paintings. This exhibition is harsh; it displays in stark black and white the internal turmoil of refugees and forced displacement, but leaves its viewer with a greater, deeper awareness of the issue.

“Suspicious Suspension” is a part of The 2015-2016 WUD Art lineup, and can be found in the Class of 1925 Gallery at Memorial Union from now until March 29.

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