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Vandals strike work of Elon scholar-in-residence

by Andie Diemer,
  • The vandals scraped away the face of the statue, mutilated the breasts and created a hole in the back of the figures head. Photos submitted. Video by Tom Arcaro.

Slideshow of the Damage
On Saturday afternoon Iraqi artist and journalist Ahmed Fadaam, who was also a scholar-in-residence at Elon, received a disturbing phone call from sociology professor Tom Arcaro. Arcaro, who played a large role in bringing Fadaam to Elon, had to deliver awful news to Fadaam: The sculpture he had been working on for three weeks and planned to gift to Elon had been devestatingly disfigured on Thursday night. 

Fadaam’s masterpiece, what will be a sculpture of a Middle Eastern woman, had had her face smeared, her breasts lopped off and a hammer smashed into the back of her head, among other damages. 

Working out of a warehouse in Burlington, Fadaam also learned that paint from the studio had been used to write a phrase on the wall that is not completely legible, but said “I come in” followed by an upside-down peace sign, more words and “haha.” 

“I was surprised, I was speechless for a moment,” Fadaam said about receiving the news. “I wasn’t expecting someone would do such a thing, especially to a piece of art that was meant to be at Elon.” 

Fadaam said it was never his intention to offend anyone or criticize anything with the statue that represents the struggle of Iraqi and Middle Eastern women. 

“It was talking about a noble cause, it was talking about the women in the Middle East and their fight for their future,” he said. 

He said it looked like a worker had accidently left the back door unlocked, which is how the vandalizers most likely entered. 

After the owners of the building realized their venue had been broken into on Friday, they phoned Arcaro who then contacted Fadaam, who was speaking at a conference about human rights at UNC Chapel Hill. 

The police were also notified immediately, and finger and footprints were collected, Arcaro said. While Arcaro thinks it was just some “silly vandals” that struck, he said the way the statue was disfigured makes him think it was a misogynistic, though he cannot be sure. 

Also, the building next door had been attempted to be entered and the alarm went off. This means the vandals could have just been going around randomly, or had found the wrong building first. 

“When I saw it, it was like a fist in the gut,” Arcaro said. “It was like ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe somebody would do that.’ I’ve seen all the work that he’s put into it and it’s a literal blow to see the destruction.” 

While it is very disturbing, Arcaro said he had the same reaction as Fadaam to redo the creation and move forward. 

“I know about the kind of skill that I have, and I told [Arcaro] ‘Don’t worry, no matter what damage is done to the statue I can fix it and bring it back again,” Fadaam said. 

He returned Sunday to begin making repairs. Fadaam doesn’t believe the statue was targeted intentionally, but that the vandalizers were ignorant people who found an open door and thought they may find something valuable. 

Instead, he thinks they were excited at the sight of the work and damaged it. 

“I want to believe this was random,” Fadaam said. “I came to this country and found lots of great things and lots of great people. I don’t want to spoil this image that I have drawn in my head about them by thinking that someone would attack my statue just because I’m Iraqi.” 

Part of the mold that had been applied to the clay to be cast was damaged, which means he has to remove the mold and reshape the clay. 

“It was a delay, but its not something that can stop me,” he said. “After five years of war, this is nothing.” 

He said the setback won’t impact the unveiling of the final product, since the committee deciding where it will be placed on campus still hasn’t settled on a location and the base for the statue still hasn’t been constructed. 

Five years ago, Fadaam saw his art school and studio in Baghdad being looted by similar people. 

“When I came to the States, I wasn’t expecting to find the same people here that would target an art piece and vandalize it,” he said. “You’ve been saying that the Iraqi’s who looted their own buildings and destroyed their own statues are ignorant, so why are you doing this now?”