Bahjat Abdulwahed (1939-2016)



Bahjat Abdulwahed was a prominent Iraqi broadcaster whose caramel voice was known to generations of Iraqis. He began his career at Radio Baghdad in 1959 as a news announcer. Early on he transitioned to Baghdad TV, but then returned to the radio, where he remained for almost three decades.

He occupied the position of head broadcaster and linguistic counselor and supervisor, and beyond his on-air work, was responsible for training other broadcasters in Arabic grammar and diction at the Institute for broadcasting and television for 15 years. He was well-known for his deep knowledge and masterful skills in Arabic language, even hosting a weekly language program, in addition to various news and features programs over the years.

Through his career he witnessed and reported major historical events in Iraq, from the February 1963 coup d'état to the famous match between Andre the Giant and Adnan Al-Kaissie, a high school friend of Saddam Hussein, who brought wrestling to Iraq under his direction. In 1988 he resigned in order to dedicate himself fully to his writing. He published several important books on Arabic language and grammar and Qur’anic studies, and was working on a final manuscript at the time of his death.

Bahjat was married to the Iraqi broadcaster and businesswoman Hayfaa Ibrahem Abdulqader for almost 50 years. Their marriage was marked by immense respect, love, and copious amounts of humor. They met in the early 1960s at the Baghdad TV Station, where Hayfaa worked as a news announcer. Five years later, when he became her manager, he ordered her to leave the news desk over a mistake in her reading, but she disobeyed him to read anyway. The next day he tried to resign, but management convinced him to stay; when Hayfaa heard he was returning she herself resigned rather than continue to work with him. Only much later, when he came to her family’s home to ask for her hand in marriage, did she speak to him again. They had one daughter, Rawnak Bahjat Abdulwahed Al Shaikli, who followed in their footsteps to become a news announcer, currently working in for Arab News Broadcasting in Jordan.

Bahjat and Hayfaa moved to Jordan in 2005 after they received an envelope with two bullets, a coded death threat for both of them, like those sent to many others who were forced to flee their homes for their own safety. After the long refugee application process, in 2009 they were granted visas, and Bahjat and his wife moved to Philadelphia into a one-bedroom apartment in the Northeast neighborhood, where Hayfaa still lives. While in the United States, Bahjat and Hayfaa shared their experiences whenever called upon, and Bahjat was honored for his career achievements in a ceremony in Washington, DC. After struggling with respiratory ailments for many years, Bahjat was hospitalized in February of 2016, and unable to breathe or speak on his own. He passed away on August 26, 2016.

Visitors to their apartment would find satellite TV news in Arabic played in the background, while Bahjat and Hayfaa told stories of their lives in Baghdad, their travels across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and their journey to the United States. Feasts would appear from the tiny kitchen, Kubba and Kebab followed by dates and sweets and strong coffee and tea. Bahjat and Hayfaa’s warmth pervaded this small space, overstuffed with Bahjat’s favorite leather recliners. Masters of the art of Iraqi hospitality, everyone would be welcomed with a smile, a joke, and more food than they could possibly eat.

This project would have no form, no heart, and no voice without them. We are grateful for their generosity and friendship.



Crew

Michael Rakowitz (Lead artist, director and creator) is an Iraqi-American artist living and working in Chicago. His work has appeared in venues worldwide including dOCUMENTA (13), MoMA, MassMOCA, 16th Biennale of Sydney, 10th and 14th Istanbul Biennials, Sharjah Biennial 8, National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt, and Transmediale 05. He has had solo exhibitions at Tate Modern in London, Alberto Peola Arte Contemporanea in Torino, and Kunstraum Innsbruck. He is the recipient of a 2012 Tiffany Foundation Award, the 2003 Dena Foundation Award, and the 2002 Design 21 Grand Prix from UNESCO. His work features in major private and public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Neue Galerie, Kassel, Germany; Van Abbemuseum, Endhoven, Netherlands; The British Museum; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Kabul National Museum, Afghanistan; and UNESCO, Paris. His solo exhibition, The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one’s own was on view at Tate Modern in London in 2010. Rakowitz was commissioned by Creative Time in 2011 for his project, Spoils, a culinary intervention at New York City’s Park Avenue restaurant that invited diners to eat off of plates looted from Saddam Hussein’s palaces. Enemy Kitchen (2003-ongoing) is a food truck serving Iraqi food to Chicago’s hungry public, staffed by veterans of the Iraq War working under Iraqi refugee chefs. His first US museum survey, titled Backstroke of the West, will open at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in September 2017 and has been awarded the 2018 Fourth Plinth commission in London’s Trafalgar Square. Rakowitz is Professor of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University.


Elizabeth Thomas (Curator) is the Director of Public Engagement for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and a Senior Lecturer in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts. She began her work with the Radio Silence project while curator-in-residence with Mural Arts Philadelphia. Her work focuses on research-based commissions with artists in museum and public contexts, with curatorial positions at Carnegie Museum of Art and Walker Art Center. As curator of the MATRIX program at UC Berkeley Art Museum she initiated projects with artists such as Omer Fast, Futurefarmers, Emily Roysdon, Jill Magid, Trevor Paglen, Allison Smith, Ahmet Ogut, and Tomas Saraceno.


Abigail Satinsky (Project and performance producer) is an arts organizer, with an interest in socially engaged art and artist-run culture, currently living in Philadelphia. From 2010 – 2015, she worked at Threewalls in Chicago, where she organized exhibitions and programs, including the Hand-in-Glove conference on grassroots arts organizations. She was a co-founder of the artist group InCUBATE, which started the international micro-granting meal network Sunday Soup, editor of the book Support Networks which chronicles socially-engaged art in Chicago over the last 100 years, and winner of the 2016 Art Journal Award for distinguished writing from College Art Association.


Sarah Gladwin Camp (Rehearsal Director) is Philadelphia transplant who specializes in building community and organizing large-scale performances. As a choreographer and dancer, her biggest project was being co-artistic director of Green Chair Dance Group from 2004-2014. She is also the creator and director of ZoomDance: Action Adventure Story-Telling Dance programs for young kids. Her most current projects in addition to Radio Silence are: FringeA-Thon epic dance party with FringeArts; a new collaboration between Christ Church Neighborhood House and International Contemporary Ensemble; and thoughtfully and joyfully raising a human of 2 years.


Hanna Khoury (Music Director), an Arab-Israeli, is a violinist and violist trained in both Western classical and Arabic classical music styles. He directs the Arab Music ensemble at the University of Pennsylvania. Formerly, as Artistic Director of the Arabesque Music Ensemble with Al Bustan Seeds of Culture, he led nationwide tours, performing traditional Arab music in major venues and universities. He is also a violinist and Arab music advisor with Intercultural Journeys, frequently performing with cellist Ohad Bar-David. Khoury recently toured with Lebanese superstar Fairuz and played lead violin with Iraqi singer Kazem Al-Saher and Grammy winner Youssou N'Dour. In addition, Khoury can be heard on several pop recordings including Grammy-nominated song "Beautiful Liar" (featuring Beyonce and Shakira), and "Love and Compassion" (featuring Paula Cole and Kazem Al-Saher). Khoury recorded strings for Shakira’s Grammy performance of "Hips Don’t Lie," and he has collaborated with musician/composer Roustom on multiple projects, including an Arabic jazz album with Al-Zafeer Ensemble. A recipient of the America-Israel Scholarship and Qattan Foundation Award, Khoury graduated Magna Cum Laude with departmental honors from UCLA with a Bachelor's in Economics and Music Performance, and obtained his Master's degree in Music from Temple University.


Mayyadah (Set Design and Backdrop painting), an artist, and architect from Iraq, was born in Damascus, Syria, to Iraqi parents. From early childhood, she showed interest in drawing; she used to draw a scene of a small cottage with a walkway through the forest on a rainy day on the header of her notebook. She graduated from Baghdad University with a Bachelor’s degree in Architectural Engineering. In 2006, Mayyadah sought refuge in Syria where she restarted painting, communicating her love of Baghdad and of Damascus, with street scenes and reflections on Iraqi culture. It became impossible to remain in Syria, where a civil war had flared up. Mayyadah, her husband, and their four children got on the last plane of refugees flying directly from Damascus to the U.S. Since settling in Philadelphia in 2012, Mayyadah has worked as a retail associate, a case manager and an interpreter and peer educator. She’s also continued as an artist, painting images that introduce the beauty and complexity of Iraq to her new city, and that provide continuity and connections for other Iraqi refugees here through the preservation of valued stories and cultural symbols.



Cast

Jawad Alamiri is an Iraqi activist and businessman who has lived in the US since 1981, pursuing a bachelor and master degrees in management engineering in this country after leaving Iraq during a time when tyrannical rule caused the loss of three million innocent souls, including the death of three brothers and a sister, and the imprisonment of one more brother and two more sisters. He has taken a path of many activities exposing the brutalities and the daily violations of human rights, where there were no rights except the privileges of those who ruled. Since the collapse of the regime, those activities have changed into a different phase, by helping the new wave of Iraqi refugees that arrived since 2008. He conducts workshops in issues related to employment, and the social and psychological difficulties that immigrants face in a new society. He extends his hands in help and support to all kind of people, including those who supported the previous regime.


Kevin Basl is a writer, musician, and activist. He served in the Army as a mobil radar operator from 2003 to 2008, twice deploying to Iraq. He's currently an instructor for two veteran arts nonprofits, Combat Paper NJ and Warrior Writers.


Lawrence Davidson is a husband, father of two children, and US Army veteran serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since leaving the military in 2008, Lawrence's personal, professional, and academic pursuits have been directed towards understanding, serving, and building the veteran community. Lawrence has been working with Warrior Writers for five years, including conducting a qualitative exploration of participation in Warrior Writers for his Masters of Social Work capstone research. Lawrence recently started a writing group at the Chester County prison for incarcerated veterans utilizing Warrior Writers materials.


Aaron Hughes is an artist, teacher, organizer, and Iraq War veteran, whose work seeks out poetics, connections, and moments of beauty, in order to in order to construct new languages and meanings out of personal and collective traumas. He use these new languages and meanings to create projects that attempt to de-construct systems of dehumanization and oppression. On January 30, 2003 Aaron was pulled out of the University of Illinois and called to active duty with the 1244th Transportation Company Army National Guard out of North Riverside, Illinois. On April 17, 2003 his Company was deployed to Kuwait under Operation Iraqi Freedom. There he supported combat operations by transporting supplies from camps and ports in Kuwait to camps in Iraq. After three extensions, totaling one year, three months and seven days, Aaron's Company was redeployed home to North Riverside Illinois on July 24, 2004. Aaron returned to the University of Illinois in the spring of 2005 as a student majoring in painting with the need to express and share his experiences with others and began to use art as a tool to confront issues of dehumanization, militarism, and occupation. Aaron went on to receive an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University in 2009. From July 2009 to November 2012 he served as the Organizing Team Leader for IVAW were he worked on developing the IVAW Field Organizing Team, IVAW's first strategic campaign Operation Recovery, and many other actions including the 2012 NATO protest. Aaron has worked on such projects as Warrior Writers, Combat Paper, Drawing For Peace, Operation First Casualty, Winter Soldier, the Demilitarized University, the Field Organizing Program, Operation Recovery, War is Trauma portfolio, Celebrate People's History: IVAW portfolio, and the Tea Project.


Sergeant Gin McGill-Prather (ret.) is a Philadelphia-based artist with roots in the South. She served as a Combat Medic and Preventive Medicine Specialist in the Army National Guard for 5 years and deployed to Camp Bucca, Iraq in 2004. Gin, her wife J.P., dog, and cats live in South Philly.


Michael Miller is a veteran of 15 years, 8 in the Marine Corps and 7 in the Army. He is a spoken word artist who works often with Warrior Writers. He lives in Chester, PA, and is the owner/operator of Open Mikes Cafe.


Yaroub Al Obaidi was born in Diyala, Iraq in 1977 and has lived in Philadelphia since June 2016, after residing for many years in Malaysia. Al Obaidi was a designer, researcher, and author who worked as a lecturer at the college of fine arts at the University of Baghdad from 2004 until 2007. He has a Master’s degree in design from the college of fine arts at the University of Baghdad, and is currently a PhD candidate at University of Science in Malaysia.


Mohammed, an Iraqi refugee, was born in Baghdad. He graduated from University of Technology with a Bachelor's degree in Electronics engineering. He left Iraq in 2007 seeking refuge. In 2012 he was resettled with his family in Philadelphia Pennsylvania.


Layla Al Husaini was born in Baghdad in 1940, lived in Mosul as a child, and returned to Baghdad in 1958, at the time of her marriage. She is the mother of four sons and two daughters. One son died as a baby, and her three other sons died as men, due to the miserable sectarian conflicts in Iraq. She turned to poetry after losing her husband and her sons. Layla came as a refugee to the United States in 2013, where she lives with her daughter Fadya, and her family.


Toni Topps is an actress, poet, and motivational speaker, and a native of the city of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, Philadelphia, Pa. As an actor Topps can be seen in national commercials for Carnival Cruises and she has starred as the lead actress in the critically acclaimed play Baby Mama Drama, which opened in her hometown of Philadelphia. Topps is a # 1 Best Selling Author for her collaboration in W.O.M.B Sisters’ Chronicles (Women Overcoming Men’s Blues). She just returned this past June of 2016 from Boston Ma. performing her Poetry at the Longfellow House (Sponsored by William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences) at the University of Massachusetts Boston, with the Warrior Writers. Topps has collaborated with Global Patch Adams Outreach, Gesundheit Institute, to share her gift of poetry, healing through creative expression via humanitarian clowning and community outreach abroad in Guatemala. Topps is dedicated to helping people overcome their obstacles in life and she travels the east coast as a motivational speaker and Poet teaching others how to navigate in difficult times through her words.