Schuylkill Center installation brings first Iraqi Mudhif to U.S.

Posted 6/23/21

Al-Mudhif - A Confluence, which opens to the public on Thursday, June 24. The intent was to use the construction process to heal from the twin traumas of war and displacement. This unusual environmental art structure is the first built in North America outside of Iraq.

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Schuylkill Center installation brings first Iraqi Mudhif to U.S.

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The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia has a new outdoor art installation, Al-Mudhif - A Confluence, which opens to the public on Thursday, June 24 at 7 p.m. Since the beginning of June, volunteers, Iraqi immigrants and U.S. Veterans of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan helped build the Iraqi guesthouse, called a mudhif, on the grounds of the Schuylkill Center. The intent was to use the construction process to heal from the twin traumas of war and displacement. This unusual environmental art structure is the first built in North America outside of Iraq.

The mudhif is made entirely of the wetland grass phragmites. This invasive reed is abundant in the Delaware River watershed and is culturally and environmentally important to the marshlands in Southern Iraq. Mudhifs are one of the oldest known nature-based, monumental buildings that date back more than 5,000 years to the cradle of civilization in Southern Iraq (Mesopotamia). Today they are still in use for town gatherings and ceremonies but also a place where conflicting parties go to discuss and resolve their differences.

“Three years ago, the Schuylkill Center played a crucial role in the development of a larger art initiative that aims to connect diverse, local communities near the Delaware River watershed through the language of art,” said Tina Plokarz, Director of Environmental Art at the Schuylkill Center..  “Al-Mudhif creates a space that reaches beyond political borders and cultural differences while connecting the unique wetlands of Southern Iraq with our local Delaware River watershed.”

Part of a larger art initiative Lenapehoking~Watershed by the Alliance for Watershed Education, this installation is one of sixteen site-specific responses that can be found at nature centers along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

The opening celebration on June 24 includes a land acknowledgement by Trinity Norwood and Reverend John Norwood of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, remarks by Iraqi designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi and environmental artist Sarah Kavage, a blessing by Chaplain Christopher Antal of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, storytelling by Native American performer Tchin, a participatory art project, and Middle Eastern dance music presented by Rana Ransom.

“The Schuylkill Center is so excited to present Al-Mudhif to the region,” says Mike Weilbacher, the Schuylkill Center’s Executive Director. “That the first mudhif ever built outside of Iraq comes to Roxborough, PA is remarkable. And that this is our very first in-person public event since March 2020 is also a wonderful confluence.”

Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is located at 8480 Hagy’s Mill Road in Philadelphia. Admission is free.

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