Philadelphia Iraqi Guesthouse Debuts at Schuylkill Center

Last month, Environmental artist Sarah Kavage and Iraqi social art designer Yaroub Al Obaidi hosted a presentation for their finished project of a “Mudhif,” a traditional Iraqi guesthouse. The Mudhif, which is the first to be built outside of Iraq, is located at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.

The Mudhif project is an installation that is a part of the large art initiative for Lenapehoking’s Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River. Lenapehoking is an art project that is named after the land of indigenous Lenape people that lived near the Delaware River Watershed and other waterways in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This project honors and acknowledges the original caretakers of the land by creating art installations in various locations on the Delaware River Watershed, where Kavage will also create other projects for the program. 

Both Kavage and Al Obaidi started construction of the Mudhif on Memorial Day with the help of U.S. and Iraq veterans, refugees, students from AIM Academy, and the local community in Roxborough, PA. The two artists initially came together to start the project when they met at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. 

Al Obaidi and Kavage wanted to bring the project to the Schuylkill Center since Al Obaidi is a local resident of Roxborough and has an established relationship with the community, as well as the Schuylkill Center. The center also has an environmental art education program that can use the Mudhif as a perfect teaching tool to show students how the environment and art can be used in the world. 

The Mudhif is intended to support American and Iraqi veterans to gather and heal their traumas from warfare and was built using all-natural materials found within the tri-state area. The featured material that was used in bundles to build the structure of the Mudhif was the phragmite reeds, an invasive species type of plant. These reeds and their invasive nature are used as a metaphor to help symbolize how Iraqi Veterans and Refugees have faced discrimination in America since the war.  

There were some challenges as Al Obaidi and Kavage worked towards completing the Mudhif, such as choosing the specific location at the Schuylkill Center, there were not many areas that were completely leveled there. Al Obaidi also expressed that the Iraqi Veterans who helped construct the Mudhif initially told him that the project would be impossible to build. 

Planning out the construction also proved challenging, due to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and what needed to be followed for structures of the Mudhif’s size. Moreover, Al Obaidi and Kavage had to figure out how to build a Mudhif that could withstand the changing seasons in America. 

During the presentation, Al Obaidi explained that what makes this Mudhif different is that it is made to endure the change of seasons and precipitation like snow, rain, and hurricanes, whereas, in Iraq, the reeds are thicker and not made to withstand weather changes.

Although Al Obaidi had difficulty in planning the construction and had doubts from the veterans, he believed that there weren’t too many challenges in building the structure. Instead, he added, that there was too much positive energy and positive people that helped build the project. 

Article written by Thomas Dyer on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association