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Iraqi American Photographer Creates Compelling Images To Illustrate Challenges Refugees Face

posted on: Apr 28, 2016


New Arab Museum exhibition provides an intimate look into life as an immigrant in metro Detroit

Born in war-torn Baghdad during the first Gulf War, Iraqi American photographer Salwan Georges knows about facing hardship and adversity. One of his earliest childhood memories was looking out of a window in his family’s house to a sight of bombs in the distance, thinking they were fireworks. At age eight, Georges and his family resettled in Syria to escape the political turmoil in Iraq and would eventually immigrate to metro Detroit in 2004.

 Through his personal experiences and life-changing circumstance, Georges aims to raise cultural awareness by documenting the struggles of Iraqi refugees in the Detroit area. His experiences of war and refugee life give him a distinct perspective on the lives of everyday people all around the globe.

Premiering at the Arab American National Museum (AANM), the exhibition Starting Over in Dearborn: Photography by Salwan Georges offers an in-depth look into the trials and tribulations faced by immigrants seeking to put down new roots while preserving their cultural identity. On display from April 30 through August 21, 2016 in the Museum’s Second Floor Atrium, the exhibition is free with Museum admission.

Since 2006, more than 100,000 Iraqi refugees have settled in metro Detroit, specifically in Dearborn and Sterling Heights. As nations around the world deal with influxes of refugees, Georges’ work helps viewers comprehend the human toll of global conflicts.

Georges’ long-term project, Finding Freedom, documents the lives and struggles of refugees as they face new challenges and opportunities. For some of the refugees that Georges spoke with, starting over in America has meant adapting to new surroundings while simultaneously trying to retain cultural customs and language. Gaining access to their most intimate gatherings and ceremonies took time and effort, but those moments are important because they are not widely seen outside the community.

“As I photograph refugees, in every photo, I see myself and my family’s story,” says Georges, a staff photographer at Detroit Free Press. “When I was young, experiencing the same things they do, I didn’t have the tools to express my voice. But now I hope and wish that, with my photos, I can give a voice to refugees.”

 Georges, a member of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), received an associate degree in photography from Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and recently graduated from the honors college at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. In 2014, he received the Briggs-Bunting Freedom of the Press Scholarship from Oakland University. Georges’ work has been featured in the New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Telegraph (UK), The Intercept and Detroit Free Press.

Georges’ imagery has been showcased as part of Indigenous People of North America – Red Room Gallery, Royal Oak, Mich., Silver Medal Exhibition – The Scarab Club, Detroit, – Hatchback VII, VIII & IX – Hatch Art Gallery, Hamtramck, Mich., and The Essential Self: Meditations on the Politics of Identity – Detroit Artists Market, Detroit.

To read more about Georges visit his website:

Starting Over in Dearborn: Photography by Salwan Georges

Saturday, April 30 through Sunday, August 21, 2016