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The Words: On Memory, Temporalities, and Exile


The moment of exile is not a singular event but often lies back in the past and is tied to one’s experiences, whether with gender, sexuality, migration, or beyond. “The Words: On Memory, Temporalities, and Exile” is a transformative project that explores the narratives of political imprisonment and exile in Syria and the diaspora. This narrative also unfolds as a continuum of stories across the SWANA region, rather than as isolated incidents. 

At its heart, Assaad’s initiative seeks to document and connect fragments of history, bridging the gap between past memories and present realities. The project examines the nuanced meanings of social and political exile for the affected and their families, challenging the often romanticized, heroic, or overlooked portrayals of these experiences. The primary aim of “The Words” is to confront the often binary discourse of good versus evil and move beyond capitalizing on individual stories.

Authentic storytelling has the power to evoke empathy, inspire dialogue, and drive social change. Driven by autoethnographic inquiry, this project questions how perspectives shift with(in) time and place, interacting with Eurocentric narratives that often cast exiles as mere victims and victims as mere objects. Assaad will begin with their own family and extend beyond to showcase contemporary reflections on imprisonment and migration. This includes voices like Wafa Mustafa, who tirelessly campaigns for a liberated Syria and the release of her father from imprisonment.

“The Words” aims to resonate with politically engaged individuals aged 22-35, those with personal migration experiences, and a broader, intergenerational audience. It seeks to build supportive communities through collaborations with advocacy groups, educational bodies, and media organizations. By facilitating dialogues and providing a platform for expression, “The Words” encourages individuals to share their stories using their own language and contribute to a collective understanding of exile, memory, and migration.

“The Words” will produce an extensive multimedia essay that includes audio interviews, written narratives, and visuals, thereby creating a vivid digital archive. This archive will amplify the voices of those who have always influenced history, yet are seldom mentioned—the ordinary lives shaped by prison and exile.

Updated April 2024