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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 22, 2009

Across the great divide, hometown and Iraqi kids create art together

By Saranac Hale Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — A man reclines among his wares for sale behind an open gate and a pair of women chat, with locked doors prominent behind them.

Each picture expresses safety, says Bob Alft. 

They were painted by Iraqi children on canvasses smaller than those painted by American students so that they could be discreetly mailed out of the country, he explained to a group of about a dozen.

The halls of Voorheesville’s high school are host to murals and paintings made by local students and by Iraqi students.  Alft explained the cross-cultural project during the opening of the display last week.

The project will travel to other schools before being sent to Egypt where it will join other pieces to form a pyramid-shaped installation, Alft said.

Rori Alft-LaFond, his eighth-grade daughter, painted part of the junior-high mural that is hung at the school.  The group of about 15 kids from various area schools who worked on it tell a story of Iraq going from what they see as its current situation — chaos — to paradise, with a bridge between them, Alft-LaFond explained.  The drawing moves from right to left since that is how Arabic is written, she said.  

Following the line of the bridge is a poem written by a 10-year-old Iraqi boy whose mother did not immigrate with him.

“Oh Mother speak to me.  Oh Mother answer me.  I miss your presence with unbearable longing.  I am an abandoned stranger without your loving eyes my life is aimless and lonely.  You feel my joy and sorrow.  A touch of your warmth and I am full of life,” he wrote.

It speaks to more than his own ache, said Alft — it describes how many Iraqis feel about their homeland.

While the bridge ties together the middle-school mural, a phoenix rising from the crotch of a tree marks the center of a mural painted by high school students.

Both paintings portray a devastated country and hope for its future.

Hanging next to them are the pictures from Iraqi children, that offer a “throw-back to a past that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Alft.  They are scenes from everyday life — sitting in a shop, carrying water, socializing — that Iraqis long for, he said.

Pointing to many of the comforting aspects depicted, like women’s scarves and locks on the door, Alft said, “It says something of desire for safety and security.”

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