Museum  May 1, 2018  Megan D Robinson

“Thicker Than Water” Articulates the Anxieties of the Refugee Experience at the Mia

Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water, “Pillar of Salt” (2018)

Now at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Essma Imady’s installation, Thicker than Water, is a heart-rending contemplation of the effects of Syria’s civil war and the realities of life as a refugee, including leaving friends and family behind and the strangeness of navigating a new home. Syrian-born Imady moved to the US to get her MFA just before war broke out. Her work explores the tensions and anxieties of refugees and immigrant parents.

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water, "Comfort Object"
Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water, "Comfort Object," teddy bear, 2018

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water
Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water, “Coming Home Outfit,” 2018

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water, "Receiving Blanket"
Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water, "Receiving Blanket," printed plush blanket, 2016

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water
Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Art

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water

At the entrance of the gallery, a wall-mounted rectangular grid of sixteen videos plays interviews with Syrian refugee children. Many of Imady’s pieces juxtapose imagery of childhood innocence with symbols of loss, strife, challenge and war. In “Pillar of Salt” (2018), a teddy bear wearing a quilted pink-plaid backpack sits on a pile of salt the weight of a child, referencing the story of Lot’s wife and the danger of looking back during an escape. “Coming Home Outfit” (2018) displays a lone child-sized lifejacket, hanging from a padded, be-ribboned sweater hanger, and the plush “Receiving Blanket” is printed with an image of the bombed-out Syrian city Homs. These incongruous pairings evoke both tenderness and horror, conveying the tragedy of war and dislocation. Children are endangered or die, families are torn apart and safe havens can harbor racism and alienation. 

Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Installation view of Essma Imady: Thicker Than Water

Thicker than Water runs through June 24, 2018, in Mia's U.S. Bank Gallery. Imady will speak about her work 7 p.m Thursday, May 17. For more information, visit https://new.artsmia.org

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.