In preparation for and as part of this exhibit, Sara Gately, a MassMOCA, intern posed a series of questions, initiating a conversation about the children's art with Iraqi artist Thamir Dawood and me. Did the children talk about their paintings in terms of why they chose to include certain objects such as the Iraqi flag, the birds, or the sunset?

"I am the most curious about some of the images that are in the murals - for instance, a pine tree with lights that resembles a Christmas tree, the arch-shaped birds, the horizontal sunset in layers, the houses. In particular, I am curious about the pine tree and the architecture of the houses; the house does not seem to resemble what an Iraqi refugee might reside in, it resembles a very western-style house with a peaked roof and tall windows. Also, as far as I know there are no pine trees in the Middle East, which causes me to question how the children developed the initiative to draw these objects as representative of their home? In addition, this concept of home is central to these drawings due to the fact that the children you worked with are refugees, how have they come to define home in their new Jordanian surroundings? Finally, I am curious about what you think about the developmental process of the children. Can we assume from the murals that there is a definitive developmental trait, in terms of making images, that is common amongst all children across all ethnicities, religions, nationalities etc.? Or do you think the Iraqi children are being overly influenced by western culture so much they are losing their national identity?"

Below are Thamir's responses along with photographs he took at one of the mural painting sessions at the Webdah school in April, 2007. With his permission, I have done a bit of editing to try to clarify what he is saying. All of us are very appreciative of the effort and thought he put into organizing this ... in English!

Dina is a child of five and a half years old. She left Iraq, three years ago but still longs to return home where she belongs to a big family. She never forgets her memories of Iraq despite being very when she left. When contacting her grandfather and grandmother she tells them that she will be back to them when the explosions end in Baghdad, and electricity supplies are back to normal. Electricity is always available in Amman whilst it continues to be off in Baghdad.

Dina loves older, beautiful girls and loves to grow fast; she loves to draw roses, houses, clouds, the moon and stars, and loves to watch other children drawings. She also likes to draw boats and fish.

Dina was very happy - delighted to join children in this collective work on the murals. It is good to have the opportunity to be part of a group, drawing and painting in a large bright space away from the house. At home, drawings are done with small paper with certain restrictions not allowing her to feel so free to draw and paint as she wishes.

Did you talk with the children about what they were painting, and why?

No. In my experience, girls like to draw certain things, toys, and landscapes with trees, houses and beautiful skies. Boys however like to draw playgrounds and football, film heroes, cartoon, big animal figures and houses they live in.

About the houses

Sharp angled houses with pitched roofs are a common feature outside cities in Iraq. Most of the houses would be called shacks, huts or cabins where people can go to relax and spend time resting after toiling the whole day.

A child who wants to draw a nature scene, tends to draw those shacks because they have seen them many times, with their distinctive strange shape. The colorful red roofs are beautiful in dense green areas with lots of trees. Children are attracted to this artistic scene, and often use it in their art.

About the sky in the paintings

There are no skyscrapers to obscure the sky in most Iraqi cities. So one sees a straight horizontal view with the sky figuring large in the landscape. Our houses are built low and wide, not tall. Therefore the children can see the large sky when they look out, seeing the layers of color at sunset.

About the Iraqi Flag

The Iraqi flag is one of the favorite topics for children to draw. It shows the love of their country and the feeling that they are Iraqi, and belong to the country they admire and love.

About the birds

There is no explanation for why children paint in such figures and forms, but we never interfere or try to change their ideas. I have children who draw scribbles and say this is a bird. We tell them yes this is a bird since the child believes so.

The idea of house and home as expressed in the mural paintings

Despite the severe wounds and pains they have suffered, Iraqis maintain a spirit of pride as stated by the famous Iraqi writer ''Rashid Al-Kayoon'' who also admires their love for art and music

A culture of death and grief forced Iraqis to flee from their beautiful homeland of Iraq to a new and different natural environment. Despite this migration, Iraqis hold onto their country, the one they long for, because nothing is impossible for us. Like a phoenix rising from ashes whenever it burns, this new environment does not affect the people. The Iraqi's love of art and life sustains them.

This applies to our children as well. They can express both love and joy to others. They paint and sing to life because they are from a nation with ambition and love for life.

About life in Amman, Jordan

It is natural for children to notice that Jordan has a different culture and Jordanians are different from Iraqis. But Iraqi children have a gift of love for art that cannot be changed by this new environment.

Iraq has a history of remarkable art achievements, with deep roots and legends and stories. Gilgamesh and Ankido are examples who searched for posterity thousands of years ago. Civilizations like Sumer gave the world the first letters and writings like One Thousand and One Nights. The world's first laws and doctrines were developed and codified in Babylon. Our history has made us a nation of people filled with love for art despite our wounds and sufferings. Iraqis continue to paint and laugh and build a great hope in the future without any despair.

Art training, and the influence of art in the lives of Iraqi children.

Yater (bird) keep on singing and
singing on your wing tayirni.
Take me to the fields...
Drink mai (water) ...
eat teen (figs)
Enjoy the feast ...
let me wear a new dress.
- A popular children's song

If you want the truth, Iraqi children have suffered most types of deprivation and cruelty from the simplest things to largest. They were deprived of the basic necessities of life. They were not getting even a minimum education. Many have lost a father or a mother in the war as a result of the violence and bombings. With all this comes depression and unimaginable sufferings. Despite all of this, you will find Iraqi artists gathering in all corners of the globe to create beautiful pictures about people in the natural world inhabited by beautiful trees, plants and animals of all kinds.

Ideas about how to support children's creativity

1. Providing a secure environment is the most important thing. Until this hour, neither the Iraqi child nor the grown-up feels safe in any place he visits. All of us are threatened with deportation to Iraq at any time, where we might be killed on the road before reaching to our destination. Even the UN High Commission for Refugees tells us they cannot protect us 100%. This is frightening and scary for everyone including children.

2. Providing safe, convenient and well-equipped art spaces for children, with good tables and materials.

3. Give them freedom of choice of subjects to be painted and no direct interference with their own work.

4. Provide a good range of different materials in different mediums such as ceramics, sculptures and engraving to increase creativity and innovation.

5. Organize consecutive exhibitions of their work to promote and give importance to the work and its results.

Universal aspects of children's art

When we provided the appropriate place for children to draw with the help of Madam Claudia Lefko, children achieved good results and won the admiration of people who were unable to see the talents of their own children. It is difficult for the government of Jordan to provide any official educational programs to the children of immigrants. It was even difficult to be admitted to private schools this year because Iraqis don't have official residence permits.

As for religion, the Iraqis coexisted peacefully, and I didn't notice any children being afraid to enter the church or a mosque for these art projects. I have seen Ms. Claudia working among Muslim children and children of Christian faith without any feelings of distinctions between them. Very few of the children's paintings or drawings shows any religious feelings or influence.

Considerations and impact of these painting sessions and the way they might affect children's development

Iraqis have collectively chosen migration, and life in a new country which affects every aspect of our lives. The immigrants have kept to their habits and traditions and other details of their Iraqi past except, perhaps, their accent. Our children have begun to learn to talk with Jordanian accent for purposes of coexistence.

As for paintings, some children painted from their memories or of old friends and family who they were compelled to leave behind. Others paint what they see and experience in their new environment.