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An Iraqi-American photojournalist's Brief But Spectacular take on refugees


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: Artist and photographer Wesaam Al-Badry's family fled his home country of Iraq at the start of the Gulf War. That experience has shaped much of his work, which focuses on capturing human struggle with dignity and love.

Tonight, he shares his Brief But Spectacular take.

Wesaam Al-Badry, Artist and Photographer: I always wanted to make people as beautiful as possible, right?

And if I'm doing documentary, if I'm doing my art, it's like the Arabs -- if you Google anything about Arab, it's just always with a gun, being violent, or being abusive, right? Like, we could never look beautiful. And, to me, that didn't sit well.

I was born in Nasiriyah, Iraq, in 1984. I remember, as a child, like, I was sitting outside our house, and you hear that the jets flying over bombing Iraqi military. Then you hear a few minutes later the Iraqi military bombing the civilians, my grandmother screaming at my mom: "You need to get your kids out of the city.You need to get your kids out of the city."

There was blood all over the streets. Like, that was my first introduction to people dying and death, is that I thought they're going to sleep.

My sister, she was about close to 2 weeks old. You know, she was born, and we had to flee, and I had to carry my other brother on my back. And my other brother carried the other one. And my mom had to carry my newborn sister and my other sibling.

And we walked for four days in the rain, mud and rain, to get to safety. We were living in the middle of a desert with nothing. There was no tents. There was no water. Then, after that, we got to move inland and inland over time. We stayed for four-and-a-half years there.

Our name was picked in a lottery, and we ended up moving to the Midwest in the United States, Lincoln, Nebraska. And that's where I grew up.

When we first moved here in '94, I was about to start sixth grade, and we lived in this low-income housing unit. And -- but to me, it was beautiful. And I cannot explain it to you when you have a good night's sleep. You know, that's something people don't understand. Like, having running water and a good night's sleep, like, it just changes a lot.

I picked up a camera in a refugee camp. That was my first introduction to a camera. For the longest time, I didn't have film. But people, like, entertained the idea of this little kid trying to escape this reality.

We really don't talk about our experience. Like, when we sit around, we joke, we laugh, we fight, but we don't talk about that time in our life, like as if it never existed. I think we feel ashamed of it.

I'm not a unique case. I'm one who gets a camera and got a mic to speak out about it. Like, my whole belief is like, if I went through it and I -- why can't I help other people?

My main two personal projects have to deal with my family history and who we are and what we're -- how did we get here? And going from that is, I'm doing my Arabs in America. Like, what does it mean to be an Arab in America? And, basically, it's like everybody's included, right, trans and queer Arab communities.

I want to tell these stories. I want to show up to places and work with people and meet people where they're at. Seeing yourself as beautiful, it can start the healing process. And I -- that's what I want to strive to do in my work.

My name is Wesaam Al-Badry. This is my Brief But Spectacular take on how refugees are beautiful.

Geoff Bennett: And, as always, you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at

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