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A Piece To Bring People Together: Abstract Palestinian Flag Garage Mural Honors First-Generation American Experience

Reid Finley creating his first mural on Samer Ghani's garage to honor Ghani's Palestinian-American identity. Video Courtesy of Samer Ghani

For first-generation citizens in the United States, finding identity can be difficult. Feelings of being split between two worlds, neither which perfectly fit can build and force people to reject parts of their heritage in order to feel assimilated in their new community.

Samer Ghani is a photographer, videographer and journalist. He is also a first-generation Palestinian-American who grew up in Milwaukee. He says he often felt like there was no place for his Palestinian identity to exist in the city and he had to just learn to compartmentalize that part of his familial history. But last year, he says he began to see more people embrace their full identity.

“After the summer of 2020, I was like there’s a lot of peace that people can come to by, like, identifying with who they are and where they come from, so I spent the last year reconnecting those dots in my life,” Ghani says.

During that journey, Ghani met Milwaukee artist Reid Finley. As the two began to talk, Finley said his goal for 2021 was to paint his first mural and Ghani’s response was “let’s make it happen." The two eventually settled on Ghani’s garage as the canvas.

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Samer Ghani
Artist Reid Finley standing in front of his first completed mural, a goal which he set for himself in 2021.

Finley used the Palestinian flag as his inspiration and incorporated it into his abstract style.

“I kinda approached it, similarly to a lot of my work, which kind of starts with a large compositional move and then a lot of it is subconscious reactions on my part to try to balance it in a way and make the composition kind of work,” he says.

Finley says his abstract style is meant to allow the viewer to project their own thoughts and feelings onto the piece. For Ghani, he sees the mural as a representation of his identity as a Palestinian-American. While the mural incorporates so much pride for his heritage, he says the empty space Finley left help represent the parts of his identity Ghani is still trying to fill in.

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Samer Ghani
Ghani says the space left unpainted in the mural represents the empty space he has had to work through in his cultural identity as a first-generation American.

“When I look at this piece that screams the Palestinian pride and heritage, but there’s so much empty space that tells the story of where my home is and why and I think that’s where the true beauty comes from,” he says.

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Samer Ghani
Samer Ghani's garage with the entire finished mural.

Ghani, who was active in photographing and participating in protests for racial justice in Milwaukee last summer, says he never imagined people in the city would ever be protesting around the ongoing violence between Israel and Palestine. Recently that experience became a reality as he watched Palestinian flags wave outside of City Hall in the wake of the latest Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza.

He says he is happy to see neighbors walking by the garage and stopping to take a closer look at the mural, as well as his family enjoying being able to see the art. While there are political and social meanings behind the mural, Ghani says at the forefront, it’s just a beautiful piece of art.

“I didn’t even realize that it would be a piece that brought people together, I didn’t think that we could do something like that in my backyard,” he says.

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