Al Mudhif – A Confluence

Al Mudhif – A Confluence

Al Mudhif – A Confluence is an outdoor art installation by Sarah Kavage & Yaroub Al-Obaidi and an accompanying gallery exhibition at the Schuylkill Center that explore notions of belonging and healing amidst the current moment of careful reconnection. Al Mudhif provides a welcoming space for intercultural encounters at the Schuylkill Center that equally offers a critical perspective on global migration of plants and people.

24 June – 31 October 2021
Curated by Tina Plokarz

The outdoor guesthouse Al Mudhif at the Schuylkill Center is the first of such structures built outside of Iraq and in North America, and its construction creates a sanctuary for belonging and healing across cultures. Mudhifs date back more than 5,000 years to the Sumerian civilization of southern Mesopotamia. Used for town gatherings and ceremonies, they are one of the oldest known monumental building types designed with nature at their heart.

The installation Al Mudhif is accompanied by a communal exhibition in the Visitor Center reflecting on belonging and sanctuary. Through the lenses of creative voices of art and activism, war experience, and indigenous resilience from Iraq to the Delaware River watershed, the exhibition offers a place for reconciliation across cultures and countries. The exhibition features artworks by Drew Cameron of Combat Paper, Meridel Rubenstein, art collective Justseeds, Tailinh Agoyo, Tchin; audio recordings by U.S. veterans, Iraqis, and Native Americans reflecting on war and sanctuary (including Moral Injury of War project); and documentary photography by Rob Zverina, Sarah Kavage, and Raad Habeeb Al Asadi, and other participants during Al Mudhif’s construction.


The project Al Mudhif will be activated by extended event programming around the exchange of war experiences, healing, and intercultural encounters with and for U.S. Veterans, Iraqi refugees, and the public. The events will build on the public’s effort in constructing the first Iraqi guesthouse on our grounds. Providing not only a significant memorable and cultural space for U.S. Veterans who were deployed in Iraq to connect with local Iraqi communities, the events will offer a place for reconnecting and healing in nature to the public.

Grand Opening of Al Mudhif
June 24, 2021 at 7pm
It’s our first in-person public event since March 2020! Join us for the opening of the mudhif, the first Iraqi guesthouse built outside of Iraq. You’ll learn the 5,000-year history of this structure—constructed entirely out of phragmites reeds—while meeting its inspiring builders. Our gallery will be open for a stroll through the new exhibition that accompanies the art installation Al Mudhif outside. The evening includes land acknowledgement by Trinity Norwood and Reverend John Norwood of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, remarks by Al-Obaidi and Kavage, a blessing by Chaplain Christopher Antal of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, storytelling by Native American performer Tchin, a participatory art project, and Middle Eastern dance music presented by Rana Ransom. RSVP required.

Sowing Seeds – A Gathering
Sunday, July 11, 2021 at 4pm
With artists Sarah Kavage and Yaroub Al-Obaidi, Director of Environmental Art Tina Plokarz
Join us for an exploration through the gallery exhibition in conjunction with Al Mudhif – A Confluence and an Iraqi tea ceremony in the sanctuary guest house on our grounds. Sharing space in Philadelphia, the artists will speak about the migration of plants and people.

Healing Walk and Encounter
Saturday, September 11, 2021
With Chaplain Christopher Antal (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), Jack Saul (Trauma Psychologist and project director of Moral Injuries), Elizabeth Ellman (Assistant Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at the Schuylkill Center) and Yaroub Al-Obaidi (artist).
Stay tuned for more!

Past Events

* Annual Richard L. James Lecture with Sarah Kavage and Yaroub Al Obaidi on the Schuylkill Center’s YouTube channel: BRAIDING PHAGMITES

* Project Kick-off on Memorial Day 2021 with a dedication ceremony.

* Volunteering during the construction of Al Mudhif from May 31 to June 12, 2021 in which bundles of reeds were bound together into parabolic arches, hand-woven mats formed a roof, and crafted lattice panels were attached to the sides.

* Phrag Harvest Fest was held on March 6, 2021 at John Heinz Wildlife Refuge.


A mudhif is entirely made out of bundled and woven phragmites, a perennial wetland grass. Culturally and environmentally important to the marshlands in Southern Iraq, this reed is abundant and invasive in our watershed and throughout the US. It is cultivated around the world for its resistant, soil-filtering capacity and medicinal qualities – 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, phragmites overwhelm native ecosystems.

The art installation Al Mudhif was conceived and created by environmental artist Sarah Kavage and Iraqi designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi. It sets a stage for intercultural dialogue and healing for Iraqi, American, and Native American communities to share experiences and discover a sense of belonging while reshaping our socio-cultural biases towards invasive species. Rather than demonizing the plant, the artists are putting the plant into productive means with the aim to provoke a more nuanced understanding of that language around displacement and the movement of plants and people.

Contextualizing the Iraqi guesthouse on the Schuylkill Center’s grounds, the communal exhibition documents the collective building process of the mudhif, comparable to the traditional efforts by intergenerational communities in Southern Iraq. As mudhifs serve as space for celebration and hospitality across cultural, religious, and political boundaries, the exhibition is a place for reflection on war experience through the voices of U.S. veterans deployed in Iraq, Iraqi immigrants, and Native American veterans, and unfolds the complexity of environmental practices with invasive plants and indigenous relationship to land in the Delaware River watershed, the land which makes up most of Lenapehoking, the land of the Lenape people.

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The art installation is part of the larger art initiative Lenapehoking~Watershed with artists Sarah Kavage and Adrienne Mackey by The Alliance for Watershed Education (AWE). The Alliance for Watershed Education is a regional initiative of twenty-three partnering environmental education centers throughout the Delaware River Watershed in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The Alliance is striving to provide meaningful opportunities to engage the thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy the local trails and waterways, and to build a new constituency for protection of clean water among all those living near and visiting the region.

Al Mudhif Builder: Mohaned Al-Obaidi
Carpenter: Robert Zverina
Community Liaison: Ricky Yanas, Priscilla Bell, José Ortiz Pagan
With special gratitude to Noah Gallo-Brown, Brenda Howell, José Miguel Teeradas Esplugas, Christina Cataese, Teresa Jaynes, Alice Hall, Emily Sorenson, Avery Broughton, Holly Goeckler, Jelise Saunders, Etienne Benson, and all the volunteers during Phrag Fest 2021/2020 and Al Mudhif construction; as well as to our partners Friends of the Roxborough Reservoir, John Heinz Wildlife Refuge, and the Philadelphia AV Medical Center.


Sarah Kavage  (lead artist) 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 (collaborating artist) 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.

Drew Cameron is the artist behind COMBAT PAPER, a creative process that transforms military uniforms into handmade paper. Combat Paper believes in this simple yet enduring premise that the plant fiber in rags can be transformed into paper. A uniform worn through military service carries with it stories and experiences that are deeply imbued in the woven threads. Creating paper and artwork from these fibers similarly carries these qualities. Through workshops, the artist welcomes people, both veterans and their families as well as the public, to bring in their own material into the process and transform experience into paper.

Justseeds is an Artists’ Cooperative is a decentralized network of 41 artists committed to social, environmental, and political engagement. The portfolio and booklet DE-MIL-I-TA-RISE is produced by Dissenters, a movement organization leading a new generation of young people to reclaim resources from the war industry, reinvest in life-giving institutions, and repair collaborative relationships with the earth and people around the world.

Meridel Rubenstein is an American artist who began her professional career in the early 1970s, evolving from photographer of single photographic images to artist of extended works, multi-media installations, and social practice. Her artwork has been exhibited and collected in art galleries and museums internationally, including the University of New Mexico Fine Arts Museum and the NanyangTechnological University, Singapore. She received fellowships and awards, including the Green Citizen Award, UNESCO (2020) the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (1981-82). In 2011 she started the project Eden in Iraq, a water remediation/art project in the wetlands of Southern Iraq, using environmental design and wastewater to make a restorative garden for health, cultural heritage, and environmental education.

Tailinh Agoyo is a photographer, actor, and producer, and the co-founder and director of We Are the Seeds, a non-profit organization committed to uplifting and amplifying Indigenous voices through the arts. She is the host of ‘Rise and Thrive,’ a weekly radio show that honors the voices of Indigenous artists, performers, educators, and change-makers, and the children’s book ‘I Will Carry You’. Her photography work is focused on capturing the vibrancy of Indigenous people today.

Tchin (pronounced ‘chin) is a nationally known, multi-award winning performer, painter, designer, author and educator. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia and lived in rural Virginia and Rhode Island where he received his early schooling. He attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico and graduated from Rhode Island School of Design.

Moral Injury Of War is a public arts and conversation project that seeks to spark critical social conversations about war-making and collective responsibility. It brings the voices of veterans, journalists, and other witnesses to the public through an immersive audio experience. By listening to these testimonies, people are encouraged to confront the anguish, uncertainty, and moral complexities of war—and their own consciences.


Refugees and war veterans are building a piece of Iraq in Philadelphia. INSIDER by Charles Davis, June 10, 2021.

Iraqi veterans and Iraqi immigrants build a traditional house of reeds in Philadelphia.
WHYY by Peter Crimmins, May 30, 2021.

Mudhif, an Iraqi guesthouse, from reed grass connects American veterans to their trauma.
Greenphrophet, May 27, 2021.

In March 2021 Sarah Kavage started to build the first sculptural installations that the AWE has commissioned her to make out of ecological materials at 17 different sites this spring and summer all over the watershed.

Read more about her projects at Berks Nature and at Capital City Farm in Trenton.


Lead funding for Lenapehoking~Watershed is provided by the William Penn Foundation. Al-Mudhif – A Confluence is further supported by the Knight Foundation, the Barra Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation 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.