Hafez to Speak at Peabody June 21

Art Will Have Important Role at New Peabody

By Steve Scarpa, Associate Director of Marketing and Communications

The partnership between local artist Mohamad Hafez and the Yale Peabody Museum that resulted in a stunning new art installation is the first instance of what will be a reinvigorated artistic presence at the newly renovated museum.

Hafez’s creation, called “Eternal Cities: Excavating the Present, Unpacking the Past,” is on display in the Yale Peabody Museum’s Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia gallery. By incorporating architectural elements and found objects with 3D replicas of materials from Yale’s collections, Hafez’s Middle Eastern streetscape evoking his homeland of Syria melds the ancient and the new in a kaleidoscope of detail, color, and shapes. “You have to be very present with your mind and heart,” Hafez said of making this kind of work.

On June 21, Hafez will come to the Peabody’s Central Gallery to share his thoughts about art, food, and life, among other topics. Agnete Wisti Lassen, Associate Curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection who worked closely alongside the artist to realize his vision, will facilitate the conversation. Pistachio Cafe, Hafez’s acclaimed pair of New Haven restaurants, will offer a select menu of savory items and delicious desserts at a reception taking place after the conversation.

The event will take place at 6:30 pm. Tickets are free, but registration is required. The event is sponsored by the Yale Macmillan Center’s Council on Middle East Studies.

“All of the feedback has been very positive. People are excited to see the work. It really warms my heart to see how well received the piece was,” said Hafez.

The exercise of creative expression in dialogue with the Peabody’s collections was, at one time, a part of the museum experience. Rudolph Zallinger painted “Age of Reptiles” while the museum was open, allowing visitors to observe an emerging paleoartist in real time as he crafted what would later be called “the Sistine Chapel of evolution.”

Zallinger’s “Age of Mammals” and James Perry Wilson’s nature dioramas followed and then the practice fell off over time. Museum Director David Skelly is excited to see more art present at the Peabody, and he believes that Hafez’s work is a great example of how the museum’s collections can be an inspiration.

“There was a time when the presence of creative work throughout the museum was immediate. That might have taken a pause, but it has returned with more to come,” Skelly said.

“Eternal Cities” is the first time Hafez worked on such a grand scale. His sculptures are normally 2x3 or 4x4 – “Eternal Cities” is almost 10 ft wide, a size which asks the artist for a new level of detail and coordination. It’s not just the artistic inspiration that needs to be tended to; there are practicalities for making a work of that size for a museum like the Peabody, Hafez said. Materials used in the sculpture need to be light and easily movable. They need to be durable and easily cared for. They need to have their own lighting sources.

The process of this kind of creation starts with research. Hafez looked at photos from the region and toured Yale’s Babylonian Collection housed in the Sterling Library. He gathered objects for consideration, small pieces that looked like the Syrian street scape. “I was not trained as an artist … art is a cathartic outlet for me for let go of certain emotions and stress. So, over the 25 years I’ve been doing this, things have evolved from political, humanitarian and refugee crisis to talking about the crises in the Middle East, losing a home, losing family members. It’s all been very emotionally charged,” he said.

The personal kinetic energy Hafez brings to the work is vital. “It’s a creative tornado that creates the magic,” Hafez said.

If you were to see him in the studio creating his found object sculptures, Mohamad is a whirlwind of activity, taking the ample research he’s done and free associating his creations into existence. It takes a lot out of him; Hafez can’t do it every day, but when the inspiration strikes, he’s completely immersed. “I’m like an artist on steroids,” he said.

Because it took him a year to complete the piece, Hafez doesn’t necessarily remember which choices he might have made. It gives him the unique opportunity to experience his art the same way a Peabody visitor might. He’s excited to share his experience, memories, and yes, rediscoveries with the Yale Peabody community. “I’ll wonder, how did I get that effect on the wall or what did I do to make it look like this? It’s happy surprises,” Hafez said.

Hafez has recently shifted his focus to cultural and archaeological preservation, a long term goal for pieces like "Eternal Cities."

"The focus on cultural and archaeological preservation has become increasingly important, especially after the loss of many undocumented historical landmarks in the area, unlike the Notre Dame Church which was heavily documented and was able to be rebuilt. Rebuilding these lost sites is challenging, and fostering a sense of care and responsibility among the public has become my primary goal. I am also dedicated to educating newer generations about the importance of preserving our heritage and culture. I want them to take pride in their roots and be actively involved in safeguarding the region's rich cultural and architectural legacy," he said. 

For more information about the event, visit https://peabody.yale.edu/events/a-conversation-with-artist-mohamad-hafez

Last updated on June 6, 2024

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