Al-Mudhif – A Confluence

Al-Mudhif – A Confluence

A mudhif is a traditional Iraqi guesthouse used for town gatherings and cultural ceremonies. Dating back 5000 years ago to the Sumerian civilization of southern Mesopotamia, it is one of the oldest known monumental building types designed with nature at its heart. This summer Seattle-based environmental artist and urban planner Sarah Kavage and Philadelphia-based designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi will construct one of the first such structures in the United States. Entirely made out of the invasive grass phragmites, Al-Mudhif will offer a welcoming space for intercultural encounters and hospitality at the Schuylkill Center.

June – September 2021
Al-Mudhif – A Confluence with Sarah Kavage & Yaroub Al-Obaidi

Starting in February, the Schuylkill Center will activate the project with extended programming around exchange of war experience, healing and intercultural dialogue.

Join the artists for our annual Richard L. James Lecture on Thursday, February 18, 2021 at 7pm for a discussion about traditional reed practices, methods of eco-friendly harvesting, how the public can volunteer in eradicating phragmites to prevent fire hazards and increase marsh biodiversity, and about the artists’ creative vision of their thatched sculpture designed with nature at its heart. Please RSVP.

On Saturday, February 27, 2021 at 9:30am-12pm join us for a second Phrag Fest at John Heinz Wildlife Refuge. Bring your warm boots, drinks and gloves, and learn more about the invasive wetland grass phragmites in this hand-on experience. Please RSVP with Erika at More information here. Meet at Refuge parking lot off Rt 420, just north of where I-95 meets Rt. 420 (738-1098 Wanamaker Ave, Essington, PA 19029).


Simple in its material yet complex in its traditions and designs, the environmental art project Al-Mudhif – A Confluence offers a critical perspective on water ecology, restoration, and global migration. The artists will creatively interweave Kavage’s artistic process of reed construction with Al-Obaidi’s professional knowledge about the mudhif traditions, constructing their installation Al-Mudhif just beyond our meadows. The project will set a stage for intercultural dialogue and healing for veterans from Native American, American and Iraqi immigrant communities to share experiences and discover a sense of belonging. As a recent immigrant from Iraq himself, Yaroub is optimistic that Al-Mudhif can “positively change communities for a better future” while reshaping our socio-cultural biases towards invasive species.

A perennial wetland grass, phragmites is part of a biological invasion that threatens ecosystems and species worldwide. Yet cultivated around the world for its resistant and medicinal qualities, its reeds are used in traditional practices from thatched roofs in the Netherlands to woven boats in Bolivia, from medicinal tinctures in China to musical instruments in the Middle East. In North America, however, the wetland grass was first planted in ornamental displays for its signature fluffiness and on distressed lands for its soil-filtering capacity. Research suggests that the main factor for its exponential growth and negative impact on native species and habitats is the pollution and soil salinization caused by human activities.

The project is part of the larger art initiative Lenapehoking~Watershed with artists Sarah Kavage and Adrienne Mackey by The Alliance for Watershed Education (AWE) for which Sarah Kavage will create multiple site-specific, temporary installations along the Delaware River circuit trail, exclusively using natural materials such as meadow grasses and invasive phragmites. Each installation will be “a momentary response to the specific environmental conditions of each site,” Kavage underlined. “I want to understand how we shape and are shaped by our surroundings and learn how to heal our eroded relationship with the land and each other.”


Sarah Kavage is a Seattle-based visual artist and cultural organizer whose practice addresses place, ephemerality, and ecology. Her work incorporates social engagement in addition to using research and community organizing methods. She interprets place through a lens of history, the environment, and social justice, seeking to raise awareness and heal places and people in the process. She has a Masters’ Degree in Urban Planning from the University of Washington. In 2015 she has co-produced Duwamish Revealed, a site-specific outdoor exhibition and performance series that commissioned over 40 artworks and 3 large community events along and about the Duwamish River.

Yaroub Al-Obaidi is an Iraqi designer, researcher and author, born in Diyala, Iraq, immigrated to the United States in 2016. He has worked as a lecturer at College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad from 2004 until 2007, where he received a master degree in design. After immigrating to the United States in 2016, he received his master in socially engaged art from the Moore College of Arts and Design, Philadelphia. He currently is a PhD. Candidate in Communications Media at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is the Co-founder and chief auditor for the recent art project Friends, Peace, Sanctuary and the founder of the first Arabic Journal in Philadelphia.

Al-Mudhif – A Confluence is supported by the William Penn Foundation and the Velocity Fund. The Schuylkill Center’s environmental art program is supported by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Philadelphia COVID-19 Arts Aid Fund.