“Nothing replaces the loss of a son, not even another son.” Those are the haunting words of Safia Abo Zour, a Palestinian woman whose four-year-old died in a 2011 airstrike in Gaza. In a portrait by photojournalist Eman Mohammed (Watch her TED Talk: The courage to tell a hidden story), Zour has one hand wrapped around her five-month-old; in her other hand, she holds the sweater that her older son wore the last time he went to kindergarten.
“Pain has no nation. That should be enough to stop future manmade disasters. It’s not nature. It’s not global warming. It’s us.”
Mohammed’s current work focuses on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It’s never especially chipper, but her newest project, iWar, is particularly grim. The collection, Mohammed’s first set of portraits, forces you to confront the Gaza wars through the eyes of the survivors, away from the carnage, in deliberate black-and-white interiors, stark and quiet. Each photo features a person who lost someone in the wars, posed with an abandoned relic to show their absence. In a way, the domesticity of everyday life is more unnerving than the violence.
iWar is a work in progress, to be completed in summer 2015. Mohammed, a TED Fellow, will next turn her focus to survivors of the September 11th attack in New York, and then to Holocaust survivors. Though these may be unexpected subjects for a Palestinian Muslim, says Mohammed, she believes pain makes for the strongest connection between people. She says, “Pain has no nation. The violence keeps going in a circle. That should be enough to stop future manmade disasters. It’s not nature. It’s not global warming. It’s us.”
Thu-Huong Ha is a freelance writer. Previously she was the books and culture reporter for Quartz and the context editor at TED. Her writing has also appeared on Slate and in The New York Times Book Review. Her debut novel, Hail Caesar, was published in 2007 by PUSH, a YA imprint of Scholastic, and was named an NYPL Book for the Teen Age. Follow her at twitter.com/thu