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(DIS)PLACED: Philadelphia is an initiative 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 will engage the public through storytelling, music performances, poetry readings, visual art, and community forums.

Presented by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, (DIS)PLACED invites Lebanese poet Nazem El Sayed, Tunisian muralist eL Seed, Syrian installation artist Buthayna Ali, and Syrian composer Kinan Abou-Afach to produce new works in Philadelphia. These distinguished artists bring their personal experiences and will take inspiration from local stories of people whose lives have been impacted by displacement, especially among Arab, Black, Latino, and Asian communities. (DIS)PLACED is made possible by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with support from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, and in partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia and Penn Global.

Tell us your story

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.

In the form on the right we would like to know the place your story originated, the journey that you undertook to your current placement, and how you are faring now. Your name is optional and will remain anonymous, but if you want to be more involved we would like to be able to get in touch with you for the next phase of the project.

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

Ann de Forest 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

Dave Tavani 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.

Funders & Partners


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.

© 2016 Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture