It was not your typical potluck dinner.
Iraqi refugees and U.S. veterans of the Iraq War were sharing a meal together in a Pittsburgh art gallery on a Sunday afternoon. Surrounding them were murals, three dozen of them, depicting the human cost of the war in Afghanistan.
The unusual group was marking the end of AFSC’s Windows and Mirrors mural exhibit in Pittsburgh, which had drawn over 1,100 people in the course of its one-month stay. But they were doing something else too. They were picking up the threads of a conversation.
When AFSC’s Pittsburgh program inspired the launching of the War Dialogues project, created by Joyce Wagner, the idea seemed simple: open up a dialogue between an Iraqi war refugee and a US veteran who served in Iraq. But when Iraqi refugee Mina Al Doori and US veteran Joyce Wagner first met and began sharing the memories of their experiences in Iraq— those feelings were not so simple.
“I’ve talked to other vets about the war, of course,” says Joyce. “But talking with Mina, I had to think about it in a different way, a more accountable way.” At first Mina was nervous, too. “I wasn’t sure if it was right to share my real feelings with an American. I mean, I can’t speak for all the Iraqi people. Everyone has a different opinion.”
The relationships each woman had built with AFSC’s Pittsburgh program helped them build trust with one another. And when Windows and Mirrors opened in Pittsburgh, it opened with a special addition – a collaborative installation created by Joyce and Mina through stories and art over the past year.
Their work garnered favorable reviews, not only from local papers, but also from Carl Prine from Military.com, who said that “in its own way, the diptych might have been the most decent and moving artwork I’ve encountered in years.”
The two artists were also part of a series of events organized by AFSC’s Pittsburgh program to compliment the exhibit.
Sawsan Alobaidi spoke about raising a baby in Iraq during sanctions, the Kuwait war and the Iraq war. Iris Kaminski talked about her experiences in the Israeli army and the peace work she is part of in Pittsburgh. Judith Kelly, who was part of a recent delegation to Afghanistan, shared stories of the Afghani people she met there. Peter Lems brought his perspective as AFSC’s Program Director for the Middle East. And the Pittsburgh Playback Theatre moved audiences to tears with their interpretations of the murals and reflections shared.
The potluck dinner for Iraqi refugees and U.S. war veterans brought Windows and Mirrors to a fitting close, but it certainly did not mark the end of the conversations, the learning and the healing begin in Pittsburgh.
In fact, the occasion inspired two more pairs of refugees and veterans to step forward to begin dialogues of their own. The unique voices they will bring to Pittsburgh’s War Dialogues have only just begun to be heard.