Before civil war erupted in his homeland, Syrian architect Mohamad Hafez, who lives and works in New Haven, coped with his homesickness by building models of old Damascus. Now he pores over images of destroyed cities, neighborhoods blown to mere shells. To channel his grief, he fashions models of those remains.
His heartbreaking exhibition “HOMELAND inSECURITY” is up at Lanoue Gallery, presented in tandem with congressman Seth Moulton’s office and Harvard University’s Middle East Initiative. The pointed title underlines how a government’s quest to shore up security can lead to fear and terrible violence.
The show features Hafez’s reconstructions of old Damascus — intact, if ancient and weathered — alongside his models of buildings blown to skeletons and rubble. The juxtaposition throws the ruination into sharp relief.
As do sounds of birdsong, children at play, and calls to prayer echoing through “Collateral Damage,” a building stripped naked to the elements. Still, clothes hang on the line, a tapestry slides off a chair. Ordinary notes of domestic life endure as relics. The sounds, which Hafez recorded during a 2011 visit, might be echoes of those gone. Or they might be a sign of hope and tenacity.
Such works make plain the devastation spurring the refugee crisis. “You don’t risk life and limb, the life of your beloved children, by crossing the sea in a flimsy flotation device in the dead of night,” Hafez writes in an artist’s statement, “unless the sea has become safer than the ground you are escaping.”
The “Baggage” series, in which rooms and buildings rise from worn-out suitcases, achingly expresses what refugees carry away, if only in their hearts. “Baggage No. 4” depicts another perished apartment, rebar and wire exploding from the shredded walls. Inside, a birthday cake sits on a table; an empty cradle sits near pictures of teddy bears on the wall.
The size of dollhouses, Hafez’s models command intimate looking. They conjure innocence, even as they spell out war’s wreckage.
At Lanoue Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through April 30. 617-262-4400, www.lanouegallery.comCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.