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(DIS)PLACED: Philadelphia is an initiative of Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture exploring the theme of displacement across Philadelphia’s diverse communities and from the perspectives of four artists-in-residence of Arab heritage.

Over the span of 18 months, the project is engaging the public through storytelling, music performances, poetry readings, visual art, and community forums.

Your stories

If you or someone you know has a story of (dis)placement, of moving from the familiar to the unknown – be it within a neighborhood, across a city or an ocean – we invite you to share it with us. Our project aims to bring together individuals, communities and artists to experience and share stories of displacement and placement. We want to hear your voice.


Submit your story

12 Profiles

Rajie CookFloating OutsiderGulnora Ravshan

Interviews conducted by Ann de Forest, photography by Dave Tavani.
Check back for more – this page will be continuously updated as narratives are added.

Commissioned Artists

Nazem El Sayed

Born in Lebanon, Nazem El Sayed completed his Bachelors degree in Arab Literature from the Lebanese University. He has four published collections of prose poetry in Arabic and his work is included in several anthologies. He is the 10th of 11 siblings, born to illiterate parents in the year the Lebanese civil war broke out. Arabic linguistic tradition is an important part of Nazem’s work; as he notes, he remembers picking up shrapnel and empty bullet shells to resell, he remembers showing talent as a footballer, but mostly he remembers his family’s orally transmitted verses and the long pre-Islamic classics known as al-mu’alaqat. Nazem is one of the 39 Arab writers under 40 who were selected for the UNESCO-sponsored anthology Beirut 39. He is currently a scriptwriter and producer at Alhurra TV, an Arabic satellite television network for the Middle East based in the Washington DC area.

eL Seed

Born to a Tunisian family in France, eL Seed is an artist whose works incorporate traditional Arabic calligraphy, a style he calls ‘calligraffiti.’ His art was born on the streets of Paris, and now adorns walls across every continent. Incorporating elements of graffiti and Arabic calligraphy, eL Seed is known for his unique style which uses intricate composition to call not only on the words and their meaning, but also on their movement and response to a particular site and context. His art appears on the walls of many cities, from Paris, London, New York, to Doha, Jeddah, and Melbourne, in addition to his home country Tunisia.

Buthayna Ali

Born in Damascus, Buthayna Ali studied fine arts at the University of Damascus, then moved to Paris where she obtained a Diploma in painting from the Superior National School of Fine Arts of Paris and a Masters degree in History of Islamic Art from Paris IV Sorbonne University. Currently, Buthayna teaches studio art as a faculty member in the School of Fine Arts at University of Damascus. As an artist, Buthayna’s work focuses on her milieu and its inconsistencies. She uses abstraction to bring her audience closer to the work. Thematically, she focuses on contradictions in society and nation states. Using images, signs and objects, she critiques the socio-political dimensions of imposed cultural conventions. By using abstraction she is trying to bring her audience closer to the work and in order to create opportunities for audience interactions.

Kinan Abou-afach

Born in Damascus, Kinan Abou-afach is a cellist, oud player, and composer currently based in Philadelphia. He is a recipient of the 2013 Pew Fellowship in the Arts for his exemplary talent as a performer and composer. He began his musical studies at the age of seven and went on to complete a Bachelors degree in cello performance with a minor in oud performance from the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus. He moved to Chicago in 2000 where he completed his Masters degree in Cello Performance at DePaul University School of Music in Chicago. As a composer, Kinan writes music that is influenced by Eastern and Western traditions. Several of his recent compositions were commissioned by Al-Bustan, notably: “Roads to Damascus” with visual artist Kevork Mourad premiered in February 2013; {De}perception with digital artist Ayman Alalao premiered in May 2015, “Of Night of Solace: Fantasia on Andalusian Muwashshah Poetry” premiered in December 2015, and “Nur: One Breath, One Soul” premiered in April 2016.




Ann de Forest: Writer

Ann is a writer, editor, teacher and consultant with a strong interest in design, architecture, the visual arts, and the built environment. Her short stories, essays, and poetry have been published in Cleaver Magazine, Found Poetry Review, The Journal, Hotel Amerika, Timber Creek Review, Open City, and PIF, as well as performed onstage at InterAct Theatre’s “Writing Aloud.” Her design and culture column, “Hi/Lo Tech,” appeared regularly in Attachè, US Airways inflight magazine. Ann has taught at the University of the Arts and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, and runs an after-school creative writing club at the University City Arts League.

Dave Tavani: Photographer & Videographer

Dave is a freelance videographer and photographer based in Philadelphia. He has worked on a variety of projects, mostly for nonprofit and arts organizations. He shot second camera for Danny’s Guitar Shop, a television program that aired on WHYY. He co-produces a monthly arts video feature for He is currently working on video projects for McCarter Theatre Center, Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Visit Philadelphia, The Food Trust, Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, and Philadelphia magazine.



Max Dugan: Program Coordinator

Max is a native Philadelphian, passionate about intercultural exchange and the Arabic language. He returned in 2014 to Philadelphia after graduating from Kenyon College where he earned a BA with highest honors in Religious Studies and a Minor in Arabic. To further his Arabic and cultural understanding Max attended the Middlebury Summer Arabic program, studied abroad in Cairo with Amideast, and traveled to Oman as part of the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center SALAM program. Max began working with Al-Bustan in summer 2014, eager to spread Arab arts, culture, and language in Philadelphia and beyond.

Adam Amin: Marketing Associate

Adam, an Egyptian American, is experienced in marketing and brand and event management. He has a BA in Integrated Marketing Communication from the American University in Cairo and has taken coursework in media law and international relations at universities in Egypt, the UK, and the US. Raised between Cairo and the US, Adam has a personal appreciation of the need for increased intercultural exchange between the West and the Arab World. He joined Al-Bustan in August 2016.

Hazami Sayed: Executive Director

Hazami, an Arab-American, grew up in the Arab region and came to the U.S. to pursue higher education. She began Al-Bustan with the launch of a language and cultural day camp in July 2002, which grew out of a desire to develop a creative and supportive environment where her young boys could learn the Arabic language and be immersed in the richness of Arab arts and culture while navigating their place in American society. Hazami has worked in the fields of architecture and urban development in Philadelphia and New York City. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Stanford University and Master of Architecture from Columbia University. Hazami is a recipient of the Leeway Foundation’s 2012 Transformation Award given to Philadelphia-area women artists committed to art-making for social change.


Huda Fakhreddine: Literature

Fakhreddine is a specialist in Arabic literature. Her work focuses on modernist movements or trends in Arabic poetry and their relationship to the Arabic literary tradition. Her book Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition (Brill, 2015) is a study of the modernist poetry of the twentieth century Free Verse movement and the Abbasid muhdath movement, as periods of literary crisis and meta-poetic reflection. She is interested in the role of the Arabic qasida as a space for negotiating the foreign and the indigenous, the modern and the traditional, and its relationship to other poetic forms such as the Free Verse poem and the prose poem. She also has an interest in Translation Studies, the politics of translation and its role in creating the image and status of Arabic literature, and especially poetry, in other languages. Fakhreddine holds an MA in English literature from the American University of Beirut and a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Indiana University, Bloomington.

Salwa Mikdadi: Art

Mikdadi is Associate Professor of Art History at NYU Abu Dhabi, specializing in the history of modern and contemporary art of the Arab world. Prior to joining the NYUAD, she worked at Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, and was a lecturer at the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi in the postgraduate program – History of Art and Museum Studies. Mikdadi was the Executive Director of the Arts and Culture Program at the Emirates Foundation in Abu Dhabi. She wrote the reference guide on the history of the twentieth-century art of West Asia, North Africa and Egypt for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Timeline web pages and is the editor and co-editors of several publications on the subject. Mikdadi curated “Rhythm and Form: Visual Reflections on Arab Poetry” in 1997, an exhibit of artists whose work was inspired by poetry. He recent research focuses on the governance and management of museums and art institutions in Jordan, the West Bank, UAE, Syria and Lebanon. Mikdadi curated several exhibitions including the first Palestinian collateral exhibition at the Venice Biennial in 2009. She holds a B.A. from American University of Beirut, and a M.A. J. F. from Kennedy University.

Hanna Khoury: Music

Khoury is a violinist trained in the classical traditions of Arab and Western music. He is Director of Al-Bustan’s Music Program.  In 2010 he received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, a prestigious award given to Philadelphia artists of exemplary talent.  Khoury collaborated and performed with major artists including Lebanese superstar Fairuz, Iraqi singer Kazem Al-Saher, Grammy winner Youssou N’Dour, Algerian singer Cheb Khaled, and Tony Award winner Mandy Patinkin.  He collaborated with composer Kareem Roustom on multiple projects, including recording strings for award-winning films Amreeka, Budrus, Encounter Point and PBS documentary Mosque in Morgantown, in addition to releasing an Arabic jazz album with Al-Zafeer Ensemble. A recipient of the America-Israel Scholarship and Qattan Foundation Award, Khoury graduated Magna Cum-Laude with departmental honors from UCLA with Bachelors in Economics and Music Performance, and obtained his Masters degree in Music from Temple University. Currently, Khoury is a PhD candidate at University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Music.



Sharene Azimi: Public Relations


Ashley Choukeir:  Graphic Design


Major support for this project is provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, a multidisciplinary grantmaker and hub for knowledge sharing, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Pew Center is dedicated to fostering a vibrant cultural community in Greater Philadelphia. It fulfills this mission by investing in ambitious, imaginative projects that showcase the region’s cultural vitality and enhance public life, and by engaging in an an exchange of ideas concerning artist and interpretive practice with a broad network of cultural practitioners and leaders.


Additional support is provided by The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture. Based in Beirut, Lebanon, AFAC was established in 2007 by local cultural lobbyists as an independent initiative that funds individuals and organizations in the fields of cinema, performing arts, literature, music and visual arts while facilitating cultural exchange, research and cooperation across the Arab world and globally.


For 30 years Mural Arts Philadelphia has united artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of mural-making, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives. Mural Arts engages communities in 50–100 public art projects each year, and maintains its growing collection through a restoration initiative. Core Mural Arts programs such as Art Education, Restorative Justice, and Porch Light yield unique, project-based learning opportunities for thousands of youth and adults.


Penn Global provides strategic direction for the University of Pennsylvania’s global endeavors with a focus on efficient investment of university resources for global activities. Penn Global collaborates with schools and centers across the University and seeks to catalyze cross-school collaborations to integrate knowledge that addresses key issues. Penn Global provides additional university support services, such as academic year study abroad, immigration services for international students, and operational and compliance support for international projects.


Reopened to the public in September 2012 with the completion of a total interior renovation, the Philadelphia History Museum unveiled redesigned galleries to showcase its outstanding collection of historical objects, art, and artifacts. Located in Old City Philadelphia, the Museum provides historical context for issues of contemporary urban life using its premier collection of over 100,000 objects, paintings, and photographs in exhibitions, programs, and interactive media. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30am to 4:30pm.


Nationalities Service Center is Philadelphia’s leading immigrant and refugee service organization empowering individuals to build a self-sustaining and dignified future. NSC prepares and empowers immigrants and refugees in the Philadelphia region to transcend challenging circumstances by providing comprehensive client-centered services to build a solid foundation for a self-sustaining and dignified future.


Since 1882, HIAS Pennsylvania and its predecessor organization, the Association for Jewish Immigrants, have exemplified the full meaning of the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger, as well as the American sentiment of sanctuary as engraved inside the Statue of Liberty with the words of Emma Lazarus. HIAS Pennsylvania provides legal and supportive services to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from all backgrounds in order to assure their fair treatment and full integration into American society. HIAS Pennsylvania advocates for just and inclusive public policies and practices.


(DIS)PLACED Factsheet

Legal Status of Migrants:

Displacement Internationally and Historically in the US

Syrian Refugee Crisis in the US and Philadelphia

© 2016 Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture