Azra Akšamija’s Lightweaver

2017 Mellon Faculty Grant Recipient

Enhancing the cultural fabric of refugee camps with adaptive smart textiles

As an MIT CAST Mellon Faculty Fellow for 2017, Azra Akšamija explores how art, architecture and design can address the emotional, cultural and aesthetic needs of refugees, while fostering a better cross-cultural understanding and a social cohesion between migrant and host communities. Her project, Lightweaver, features the collaborative research and creative work produced by the MIT Department of Architecture’s Future Heritage Lab and the German Jordanian University (GJU) Department of Architecture with CARE Jordan and Al Azraq camp residents.

Akšamija says, “Refugee camps should not be understood as makeshift shelters, but as civic spaces where critical social healing and cultural exchange take place in a fragile environment.” The process of making is aimed at fostering a transcultural and transdisciplinary exchange, while providing an alternative form of education for young people in the refugee camps.

Lightweaver prototypes are playful kinetic lighting machines and educational devices developed in collaboration with the artists, engineers and inventors from the Al Azraq refugee camp. The Lightweaver translates stories from textiles into a sensory play of light, aiming to preserve cultural memory and inspire hope.

Akšamija’s exhibition Design for a Nomadic World, featured in Amman Design Week, aims to broaden the dialogue around the role of design in conditions of conflict and crisis within a global perspective. The exhibition involved co-creation workshops of the Lightweaver prototypes to showcase studies of everyday-life problems and inventions of the Al Azraq refugee camp.

More at the Future Heritage Lab website.

Presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), the MIT Future Heritage Lab, the MIT-Arab World Program, the German Jordanian University (GJU) Department of Architecture and CARE Jordan.

CAST Fellow Azra Akšamija is an artist and architectural historian, Director of the MIT Future Heritage Lab and an Associate Professor in the MIT Art, Culture and Technology Program. In her multi-disciplinary work, Akšamija investigates the politics of identity and memory on the scale of the body (clothing and wearable technologies), on the civic scale (religious architecture and cultural institutions). Her projects explore creative responses to conflict and crisis though transcultural aesthetics, civic preservation, pedagogy through co-creation, and in so doing, provide a framework for analyzing and intervening in contested socio-political realities. Since 2016, Akšamija’s Future Heritage Lab has been operating a satellite location in Al Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.

Akšamija’s recent academic research focuses on the representation of Islam in the West, destruction and restoration of cultural heritage in the Balkans and in the MENA region. In her artistic practice, Akšamija combines cultural heritage from different contexts towards the creation of new art forms and future heritage. Her book Mosque Manifesto, published in 2015 by Revolver, offers new perspectives on mosque architecture as a medium for a better understanding between cultures. Her work has been published and exhibited in leading international venues such as at the Generali Foundation Vienna, Liverpool Biennial, Museums of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Belgrade and Ljubljana, Sculpture Center New York, Secession Vienna, Manifesta 7, the Royal Academy of Arts London, Jewish Museum Berlin, Queens Museum of Art in New York, Qalandiya International and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini as a part of the 54th Art Biennale in Venice. She received the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2013 for her design of the prayer space in the Islamic Cemetery Altach, Austria.

More at the artist’s website: Azra Akšamija


Project Schedule

Project Launch
January 2017

Workshops at MIT
May 2017

Workshops in Jordan
Summer 2017

Implementation of the project in Zaatari Camp
Fall 2017


Past Events

Design for a Nomadic World,” part of Amman Design Week
October 6-14, 2017
Amman, Jordan

CAST Faculty Mellon Fellow Presentations and Active Matter Book Launch
Thursday, September 28, 2017 / 6:00pm
MIT Lecture Hall 10-250
222 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA

London Biennale MANILA Pollination
September 15 – October 15, 2016
Manila, Philippines

Fitch Colloquium: Preservation and War
September 30, 2016
Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

Qalandiya International Biennale
October 5-31, 2016

“Memory Matrix” at Amman Design Week
September 1-9, 2016
Amman, Jordan

The Jordan Times: Azraq refugees partner with designers to ‘invent solutions to their daily problems’

MIT Campus News: 3 Questions: Azra Akšamija’s multidisciplinary practice in art and architecture

Balkan magazine: Azra Aksamija: ‘La Diversidad Puede Ser El Cimiento de Grandes Naciones

Abler: Azra Aksamija’s Nomadic Mosque

Azra Akšamija. Credit Dietmar Offenhuber.
Azra Akšamija. Credit Dietmar Offenhuber.