Japanese American National Museum
Upcoming Exhibitions

What We Carried: Fragments & Memories from Iraq & Syria

May 19 - August 5, 2018

Since 2003, several million Iraqis and Syrians have left their war-torn homes and relocated in hopes of creating a better future for themselves and their families. Approximately 140,000 of these refugees have immigrated to the United States, the majority with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a small memento to remind them of home.

What We Carried: Fragments & Memories from Iraq & Syria documents the life-changing journey of these refugees and sheds light on the trials and tribulations they experienced in their search for stability. Renowned freelance photographer and author Jim 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. He photographed each artifact and then returned a 13" x 19" archival print to each participant so that they could write directly on the image to explain why they chose this item, above all others, to remind them of the lives they left behind. All texts are presented in both Arabic and English.

The exhibition touches upon the resiliency of refugees from the Arab world and what it means to be displaced, leave everything behind, and start a new life in a new country. This theme echoes one found in discussions of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II, when prisoners were allowed to bring “only what they could carry.” Just as Common Ground: The Heart of Community and other JANM exhibitions strive to break down stereotypes, provide real insight into the struggles faced by Japanese Americans, and create cross-cultural empathy, What We Carried aims to do the same by sharing the personal stories of Iraqi and Syrian immigrants and the adversity they have experienced. The combination of carried objects and intensely personal stories illustrate the common threads that bind all of humanity: love for family, friendship, and the places people call home. JANM’s presentation will include a section that examines parallels among the experiences of displaced Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees.

What We Carried is an ongoing project. Since 2010, Lommasson has worked directly with Iraqi refugee communities in Boston; Chicago; Dearborn, MI; Portland, OR; San Diego; and Los Angeles, among other locations. Since 2011, What We Carried has been exhibited in Boston; Seneca Falls, NY; Berea, OH; Jacksonville, FL; Atlanta; Dearborn, MI; Chicago; Skokie, IL; Kimballton, IA; Houston; and Portland, OR. Jim Lommasson lives in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about his work, visit

What We Carried: Fragments & Memories from Iraq & Syria is a traveling exhibition of the Arab American National Museum. It was funded in part by the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC), the Oregon Arts Commission, and the Arab American National Museum.

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Upcoming Events

Saturday, May 19, 2018
10:00 AM—11:00 AM

What We Carried Members Preview


All JANM members are invited to preview What We Carried: Fragments & Memories from Iraq & Syria before it opens to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

RSVPs required by May 15 using the link below. You can also contact or 213.830.5646.

Saturday, June 23, 2018
10:30 AM

Members Only Exhibition Tour: What We Carried


All members are invited to attend a gallery tour of What We Carried: Fragments & Memories from Iraq & Syria. Limited to 25 participants.

RSVP by June 19 using the link below. You can also contact or 213.830.5646.

Saturday, July 28, 2018
10:30 AM

What We Carried Exhibition Tour


Join us for a gallery tour of What We Carried: Fragments & Memories of Iraq and Syria.

Limited to 25 participants. $12 general, free for JANM members. Museum admission included.

Saturday, July 28, 2018
2:00 PM

Stories of Displacement

In conjunction with What We Carried, stories of displacement as experienced by a variety of communities will be shared. Perspectives will include those of recent Iraqi and Syrian refugees and Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII. Additional issues at the forefront today, such as deportation and gentrification, will also be explored. Participants will discuss what they were able to bring, but also what they were forced to leave behind.

Included with museum admission. RSVPs are recommended using the link below.

Presented in partnership with Vigilant Love.

In the Tateuchi Democracy Forum



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