What We Carried: Fragments & Memories From Iraq & Syria

Image: Anthropology book carried by Haifa Al-Habeeb, photographed by Jim Lommasson. Al-Habeeb’s Arabic calligraphy over the photo reads: “Alas is today similar to yesterday? Despair, sickness, and foreignness, will my tomorrow be like my yesterday?”

The original run of this exhibition at AANM was June 4 – Nov. 13, 2016 in the Main Floor Gallery and Lower Level Gallery. It has since traveled to many venues across the U.S. (listed below) and is available to book for your venue.


Since 2003, more than four million Iraqis have left their homes and relocated in hopes of creating a better future for themselves and their families in a setting free of war and uncertainty. Many Iraqis sought refuge in Syria only to find another dangerous situation. Approximately 140,000 of these refugees have immigrated to the U.S., the majority with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a small memento to remind them of home.

To document their life-changing journey and shed light on the trials and tribulations refugees experience in their search for stability, renowned freelance photographer and author Jim Lommasson created What We Carried: Fragments & Memories From Iraq & Syria, a project documenting what it means to leave everything behind.

Lommasson invited Iraqi and Syrian refugees to share a personal item significant to their travels to America, such as a family snapshot, heirloom dish or childhood toy. Lommasson photographed each artifact and then returned a 13″ x 19″ archival print to the participant so the item could be contextualized by the owner. Exhibition visitors receive firsthand insight into the consideration of what objects, images and memories might be chosen if one was forced to leave his home forever.

The carried objects and the intense personal stories behind them combine in more than 85 images that illustrate the common threads that bind all of humanity: the love shared for family, friends and the places people call home. All of the pieces in this exhibition are presented in both English and Arabic.

“The object photos and stories can help to break down stereotypes and share our common humanity and help to build bridges,” says Lommasson. “Through my project I realized that the objects and stories helped create an intimate empathy for those of us who saw them. The more powerful understanding is the realization of what was left behind. What was left behind was everything else; homes, friends, family, school, careers, culture and history.”

What We Carried: Fragments & Memories From Iraq & Syria was funded in part by The Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC), the Oregon Arts Commission and the Arab American National Museum.

Jim Lommasson is a freelance photographer and author living in Portland, Ore. For his first book, Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice and The Will To Survive In American Boxing Gyms (Stone Creek Publications, 2005) Lommasson received the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize from The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Lommasson’ s new book Exit Wounds: Soldiers’ Stories – Life After Iraq and Afghanistan (Schiffer, 2015) and traveling exhibition is about American veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and their lives after their return from war. The book includes Lommasson’s photographs, interviews and photographs by the participants.

To read more about Lommasson and view current and upcoming tour stops for this exhibition, visit his website at www.whatwecarried.com. Watch a video by Lommasson explaining What We Carried. 

Feb. 10 – March 22, 2020
Ganton Art Gallery, Spring Arbor University
Spring Arbor, MI

May 25 – Sept. 2, 2019
Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
New York, NY

Dec. 16, 2018 – April 15, 2019
Kalamazoo Valley Museum
Kalamazoo, MI

Nov. 30 – Dec. 21, 2018
The Roeper School
Bloomfield Hills, MI

Aug. 27 – Oct. 26, 2018
West Shore Community College
Scottville, MI

May 19 – Aug. 5, 2018
Japanese American National Museum
Los Angeles, CA

Feb. 28 – May 7, 2018
Lorenzo Cultural Center
Macomb, MI

Feb. 6 – March 11, 2018
Shakespeare Theatre Company
In conjunction with Noura world premiere
Washington, DC

Dec. 1, 2017 – Jan. 14, 2018
Women’s Rights National Historical Park
Seneca Falls, NY

Sept. 14 – Dec. 15, 2017
Ritter Library, Baldwin Wallace University
Berea, OH

Sept. 6 – Nov. 7, 2017
Jacksonville Public Library
Jacksonville, FL

June 2 – Sept. 3, 2017
New Americans Museum
San Diego, CA

April 5-28, 2017
Arab American Cultural & Community Center
Houston, TX

March 25 – June 3, 2017
Alif Institute
Atlanta, GA

Jan. 9 – Feb. 24, 2017
Chelsea District Library
Chelsea, MI

  • June 4, 2016 - November 13, 2016