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Installations Narrative/storytelling


"Belonging" is a video installation that uses worldbuilding, projection mapping and narrative as tools for processing childhood memories and family trauma post-emigration from Iraq. The hope is to make sense of a personal story that has been dominated by the prejudice of Western media accounts.


Mohamed Ihsan


Despina Papadopoulos


Peering out across the video game and news mediascapes that focus on Iraq, there is a clear 'othering', if not outright absence of the experiences of everyday Iraqis, in the nuances of their culture, their stories, and their plight in dealing with the impacts of decades of war. Even when technology, such as VR (virtual reality) therapy for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), is used to heal rather than create a dehumanizing spectacle, it is often focused on Western audiences and military veterans, rather than on empowering and uplifting the voices of Iraqis, who were far more devastated by the consequences of the Iraq War. Using personal storytelling based on my lived experience as an asylee who had to flee Iraq at a young age, and utilizing virtual spaces and projection mapping as narrative tools, "Belonging" aims to express accounts that are missing from the media, through exploration of childhood memories and lingering family trauma that have been dominated by the Western mediascape. Technologies as tools for narrative were applied to the project in three stages: first by utilizing virtual spaces as metaphors for memories of distant childhood events, second through applying projection mapping as a means to contrast and self-contextualize against found footage of media sensationalism surrounding Iraq, and lastly by using photo artifacts presented alongside traditional audiovisual storytelling to express more vulnerable family accounts post-immigration to the US. Taking inspiration from healing-through-storytelling journeys, the project proposes ways which a variety of technical tools and approaches can be used as mediums to realize this healing journey, helping underrepresented individuals and families regain agency over their own stories of trauma and displacement.

Image of project header showing Project Installation.


Research for this project focused on a few core sources. Readings on Narrative Medicine: "The Wounded Storyteller" by Arthur Frank gave guidance for how to approach the bigger picture of the project, centered on finding healing through processing and retelling the personal accounts around the effects of factors leading up to, during and after emigration from Iraq. Documentaries analyzing the role of Media in 'othering' Iraq: "Generation Kill", an HBO mini-series based on Evan Wright's book of the same name, gave insight into the form and context for why and how Iraqi narratives were ignored and flattened in favor of stories that suit a Western perspective, and ultimately, the Military Industrial Complex. Artwork that raised Awareness for the plight of Iraqi voices: Heather Raffo's play, "9 Parts of Desire", along with the video installation "No End in Sight" by Aziz Hazara, served as inspirations for how to elevate the story of Iraqi and Middle Eastern narratives that were neglected by larger and more 'mainstream' power structures.

Technical Details

Belonging was made using Unreal Engine 5 (UE5), projection mapping and video editing software.