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Framed Dena Soukieh Project: Mini-thesis Major Studio II May 15, 2012

Keywords: Ethnography, conceptual photography, timeline, life, map, data visualization, identity, framing device, government, contextualizing, family, interactions, Syria, US, curate.

I. Introduction: I am very interested in teaching, and while doing some research on the role of

ethnography in teaching methods, I found myself pushed towards a personal research or

discovery mission on my own investigation of personal ethnography. In an effort to learn and

understand the cultural phenomena associated with my life timeline, this initial research method

helped to structure the cultural design question I sought to answer; How can my personal life

data be relevant and meaningful for someone else. I began to look at my own personal data in a

way that can conceptually contextualize my life, a way that made me realize how fragile life

choices really are and how much of a role the government plays in the structure of our lives. By

examining how different my life would be or where I would have lived if just one of the

decisions was not dictated by the government, I started seeing a pattern of these “what if”

questions. Living in the U.S. allows us to have (for the most part) freedom of speech, religion,

association, assembly, the right to choose to serve in the military, the right to study what we

choose, and the list goes on and on. But in a country like Syria, these freedoms are not rights that

citizens hold. What if government interactions played a different role in our lives? How much

would it change who we are or where we are or what we are doing? Is there a place for putting

life into perspective where the relevance of learning through someone else’s life data can become

relevant and meaningful and how can we visualize this?

II. Context: My project fits in the domain fields of people, data visualization, conceptual art,

framing and re-framing. I began thinking about data on a very personal level, because I have

spent so much of my life wondering what it would be like if my family had never moved to the

United States. It was important for me and my family to see the path we have taken in life and

view the influences that prompted these decisions. Through these long chains of “what if”


questions, the broader scope of my project is to prompt the viewer to think of their own life in terms of how much influence the government has had on their lives. I began curating photos from my childhood and adult life, relating them specifically to current events of that specific year in hopes that those connections would in turn prompt a more intimate relationship with the viewer. I decided to display these photos in frames of different sizes and different shades of white, off white and gray because I wanted to have a shared cohesive, overall look and feeling, yet if you look closely, each frame is distinctly different. With a horizontal time line running through the middle, I decided to use the top half dedicated to photos relating to the US and the bottom half photos relating to Syria. This was an intentional subtle choice and the viewer can pick up on this through following the string time-line associated to my life. I used small pins that were painted green for Syria and blue for the US as an anchor for the string running up and down through the timeline. Carefully written text that described the events depicted also accompanied the photos. I felt it was essential to explain the photo to contextualize the time and year in my life as well as a short personal explanation of the government influence that prompted that particular choice. Through these decisions, I was hoping to not only bring the viewer into my life on a very personal level but I was also hoping to prompt them to view their lives through mine. Almost as if these photos could be photos of themselves or their families. A way of being able to fill their own frames with their photos in their own minds.

III. Research: Through one on one, primary source interviews with my immediate family, including my mom, dad and brother, I began compiling a detailed timeline that reflects exactly where we were throughout the past 30-35 years (between Syria and the US). Photo below.


I referenced Jorge Borges’, The Other, a short story written about the author’s own visit with a younger version of himself. Borges’ writing helped me to visualize my own second path in life and question what could have been if government interactions were different. Mladen Stilinovic and Sophie Calle’s conceptual photography work also helped to inform my work as I curated events and photos in my life. I also interviewed several of my cousins for reference, who were of the same age, to compare their life data with mine. I then researched various life maps and Eduard Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, and conceptual art through photography (Artists like Jonathas de Andrade’s Tropical Hangover, and Joseph Kosuth ) .

Joseph Kosuth

Tropical Hangover, and Joseph Kosuth ) . Joseph Kosuth Jonathas de Andrade: Tropical Thunder Sophie Calle

Jonathas de Andrade: Tropical Thunder

) . Joseph Kosuth Jonathas de Andrade: Tropical Thunder Sophie Calle Sophie Calle Mladen Stilinovic Jonathas

Sophie Calle

Sophie Calle Mladen Stilinovic
Sophie Calle
Mladen Stilinovic
Jonathas de Andrade: Tropical Thunder Sophie Calle Sophie Calle Mladen Stilinovic Jonathas de Andrade: Tropical Thunder

Jonathas de Andrade: Tropical Thunder


Thinking of data in terms of life decisions rather than hard numbers and comparisons led me to think about the relevance of my own real data and what it really means, or how can it be put into a perspective that can reflect the effects of government interactions. This project will be focusing on telling my story in the form of a life map [of photos], while interweaving the effects of government and current affairs in Syria/US. I plan to use photos from my life and family as well as current events that affected our life in Syria and the US. to put that particular year in perspective. As well as, using the path that my life has taken to show the effects the government has had by it’s influences or regulations. Life timeline research:

my life has taken to show the effects the government has had by it’s influences or


IV. Design Goals and Target Audience: I hope to install my piece in one of the Parsons building, so my audience would inevitably be college students and professors. But ideally, I want my work to be able to speak to a wide range of people. I think ultimately I would like it to be shown in a gallery where the age range would vary a lot more. I hope to have two clear take- aways from my project. The first being the fact that I am posing these “what if” questions about my life, therefore, I want the viewer to question the path their own lives have taken because of government influence, and how much the government affects our lives. Second, I want to bring to light the issues of freedom, and the freedom we are lucky or not lucky to have in the U.S and Syria. The opportunity to educate, even the smallest amount, about Syria and its lack of freedoms is a success to me. I also would

V. Prototyping Process: I began with a very basic timeline in illustrator to visualize what my life looks like and when I moved to Syria and when I started speaking English/Arabic. Below:

US SYRIA 1981 1985 1988 1991 1994 1997 2000 2003 2006 2009 2012


Then I moved the timeline into physical form onto my wall in the form of post-it notes. I realized that I needed to plot a couple years of my parents life before I was born to contextualize some events.

notes. I realized that I needed to plot a couple years of my parents life before
notes. I realized that I needed to plot a couple years of my parents life before
notes. I realized that I needed to plot a couple years of my parents life before


I used post-it notes of different colors to help identify and differentiate events. The post-it note time line grew rapidly and really helped me to identify the important events that I wanted to include in the timeline. The top part are events in the US and the bottom part are events in Syria. This timeline was very successful for helping me work through curating the events and photos I wanted to include.

Orange: general life timeline Pink: government influence Purple: general details of events Blue: discrimination related events

life timeline Pink: government influence Purple: general details of events Blue: discrimination related events
life timeline Pink: government influence Purple: general details of events Blue: discrimination related events


VI. Conclusion: I wanted to name my project Framed because it really encompasses so many things for me. Using my personal life as a framing device to express influences that have made a significant [positive or negative] impact on our lives. The word frame really exploits the idea of containing something in a very neat package, which also exemplifies how my project is presented. And finally framed can also be referenced as the idea of being politicized into a certain race or ethnicity referring specifically to discrimination. After choosing to include the most current (last event in the timeline) event in my life, I feel as though my family is currently being framed by the government. I feel that the word “Framed” evokes all of those feels in the viewer and after hearing what the critics had to say about my project I felt that it was a success.

Framed what if government interactions were different.
what if government
interactions were


I also want to address the choice to leave some events out of the timeline that did have an

impact on my life. I specifically choose to leave out major events like the OKC bombing in 1995 and the Sept 11 attacks in 2001 because both of those events amplified discrimination towards arabs/muslims and I felt that they were not personal and didn’t speak directly to the topic I was interested in. I did not want my piece to turn into a politicized activist piece, and I felt that the inclusion of those events may have generalized my project in a way that I was not interested in. I wanted viewers to really identify with my life and see themselves in it, and I felt that those events may have made that harder. I do realize that it may have been a mistake, but it was a risk that I wanted to take.

I am really interested in furthering this project. I feel that there are so many other stories

that have yet to be told. You have the story that I told you with my photos and there is an underlined hidden story that you don’t see because of the choices of events I decided to include or not include. How can one story influence another or how can the outcome of what the viewer perceives be influenced by what is included or not included. I think it would be interesting to expand my project to other people’s lives that influenced mine or to look at other people’s lives that were a part of one of the events in my life. For instance, there were several other students that received the scholarship that my dad did in the late 70’s to go to aeronautics school. It would be interesting to follow their lives to see how their life has been influenced by the government. Or look at the other 29 dealerships that are going through the same problems my family is going through now and see how their lives collide.

I can see this piece expanding to more than just a personal piece. Possibly making it

interactive and being able to change or alter some of the decisions. I can also see this becoming into an activist piece about the politicized discrimination that arabs/muslims go through. I do not have a solid idea of what the end might be, but I am interested in furthering my research. Over the summer I plan to:

1. Show this piece to my family and extended family to get reactions and hopefully use their feedback in adding to this piece.


2. Use this type of structure to plot other people’s lives

3. Further my use of post-it notes into other timeline based media.

The critics had some very interesting things to say about my project. They commented on how the piece really evokes a sense of common humanity with the use of photos from the late 70’s to now. A feeling that they could put themselves into any one of the photos and it was almost like their own life. They questioned if there is a way to re-invent the frames or the framing object where it wasn’t an imprisoning physical object? I really liked the comment about using the frame as a framing device as just one of many options like a canvas or the use of a camera lens.

comment about using the frame as a framing device as just one of many options like

Final text:

May 1978, My dad Graduates from Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He received 1 of 40 scholarship,funded by Syrian Government to study at Spartan, by way of paying “the right” person off. July 1978: My dad returns to Syria for 2 weeks to get married. Mohamad-Khaldoun and Daad Soukieh. 1979: My dad returns to Syria and signs a 4-year contract with Damascus airport, to work as a mechanical aeronautics engineer. Syrian government mandates all men must serve 2 years of military service after completion of high school or college. His contract with Damascus airport stipulates that the military service is counted as served through the agreement. 1980: Syrian government changes contracts with Damascus Airport employees and requires 2 years mandatory military service to be served before beginning employment. The military salary was not nearly enough to support a family, so he flees to the US in hopes of better employment. Because he is not a US citizen, he cannot legally work in the us with his aeronautics engineering degree. He opens up Ali Baba restaurant in Tulsa. April 17 1980: My brother, Anas, born in Syria. June 1980: Spartan sponsors my mom and brother with a visit visa to come to the US. August 30 1981: I am born in the US. My parents named me Dena (Syrian/American name) because they were unsure of we were going to live. 1984: My mom, brother, and I go to Syria for what was intended as 3 month summer visit, that lasted over 4 years. 1984-1988: My mom applies 6 times at the US Embassy for a visa to return to the US and was denied every single time. 1985: My grandfather is imprisoned by rule of emergency law for 1.5 years. He was accused of stealing monies from the Bank of Damascus, where he worked. He was not allowed to have any visitors during his imprisonment. Eventually he was released without charges. 1986: My dad applies for American green card. He opens up a submarine shop in Stillwater, Oklahoma named Bill and Ruth’s.


1988-1992: My parents applied multiple times for a visa for my brother to come to the US and were denied every time. 1988: My mom applies for the 7th time for a visa. US government only grants a visa for my mom. Reluctant, but hopefully that my brother would receive a visa soon after, she decides to take the visa and leave him behind. October 1988: My mom and I travel to the US without my brother. 1990: My 10th birthday at a skating rink with Megan Glick and several other classmates and friends. 1990-99: Private parent teacher meetings were held in an attempt to push “the middle eastern kids” out. A prominent doctor in Tulsa, Dr. Dick Glick, fought against the entire school on my behalf to keep me in school. 1990-1999: I attend private school at Metro Christian Academy for 9 years. 1991: My dad received his US citizenship because of the immigration reform and control act of 1986, which granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982 and had resided there continuously. My parents applied for a hardship visa to reunite families, in hopes of bringing my brother to the US. 1992: My brother finally receives a visa to come to the US. My mom, dad and I brainstorm on an American name to give my brother in fear that his real name, Anas, would cause him grief. His new American name is Steve. 1994: My brother and I travel to Syria for a 3 month visit. August 30 1996: My mom receives a deportation letter from the US government. Doubting that their marriage is real. My parents contact Tulsa congressman and family friend, Steve Largent, in hopes to expedite the process of allowing my mom to stay in the US. He declines to vouch for my parent’s 18 year marriage. September 8 1996: I write a [persuasive] letter to Steve Largent. September 9 1996: Steve Largent changes his mind and agrees to vouch for my parent’s marriage. May 1997: My brother and I travel to Syria for a 4 month visit.


1997: I receive my Syrian citizenship. Syrian government mandated all children of Syrian citizens must apply for citizenship, or may not be allowed to leave the country. May 1999: My brother graduates from high school, receives his US citizenship and legally changes his name to Mohamad-Anas Steve Soukieh. For the next 11 years, he must apply to the Syrian government [from the US] that he remains to be the only male son in the family. Syrian military service not mandated for men who are the only male son in the family. 2000: Syrian presidential elections are held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as well as other US states. My dad was appointed as chairman to help oversee the elections. He was forced to throw out any votes that did not support the presidential candidate, Bashar Al-Assad. Syrian Parliament amends article over age of presidential candidate from 40 to 34. Bashar Al-Assad: born September 11, 1965. Age 34 May 2003: I graduate from Oklahoma State University with a graphic design degree and move to Phoenix, Arizona. June 2004: My mom and I visit Syria for 3 months. 2007: My dad goes back to Syria for a visit after a long 27 years of evasion from the compulsory military service. Syrian government required him to pay $35,000 US dollars in penalties to return to Syria. December 23 2011- : 10:30AM My parents home and business were raided by armed FBI/DEA/ CIA forces. They were 1 of 30 businesses falsely accused of connections with hezbollah terrorist group. Of the 30 accused businesses, we were the only ones raided by armed FBI/DEA/CIA forces. The government has dissolved my parent’s business and they have spent over $60K in legal fees. 5 Months later, this is still not resolved. Although there has not been any evidence to prove any wrong doings we continue to fight back to prove our innocence.