Rebuilding in Miniature

An Iraqi refugee bides his time in immigration limbo by creating obsessively detailed dioramas.

By VEENA RAO, JUNE 27, 2017


When I was growing up outside Chicago, one of my favorite trips was to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms. I spent hours staring into each remarkably detailed room, imagining I had transported myself to the past and had secretly slipped into the grand entrances, libraries, living rooms, and bedrooms of people’s homes. Each visit left me with a sense of wonder and excitement.

When I came across the beautiful work of Ali Alamedy, the artist featured in this short film, I felt that same sense of awe.

Mr. Alamedy was born in Karbala, Iraq, in 1982, during the Iraq-Iran war. At the time, his father was imprisoned under Saddam Hussein for political reasons, and Mr. Alamedy wasn’t able to meet him until he was 9 years old. His mother taught him to read at a young age and reading quickly became his favorite hobby, as well as a way to escape to calmer and more secure places. Mr. Alamedy credits the novels he read as a primary reason he started building miniatures, “to recreate some of those scenes just as I had imagined them to be in my childhood.”


Eight years ago, Mr. Alamedy built his first miniature — a wooden cottage, inspired by a similar piece he saw at his uncle’s home as a child. He made the cottage from basic materials and weathered it using coffee.

At first, he had no idea what to call the kind of art he was making. In Arabic “miniature” translates to “munamnamat,” a small painting on paper. He searched the Internet for the words “miniature” and “diorama” in English and was surprised to find a substantial community of miniature artists around the world. He began posting his work online and soon had thousands of friends and followers.

Mr. Alamedy started his most ambitious project, a 19th-century photography studio, a year after he and his family were forced to leave their home in Iraq for Turkey.

As he admits in the film, meticulously making each of the objects in his scenes to be exact reproductions of real objects, at a tiny scale, is tedious. Yet the act of creating is also meditative, a kind of quiet rebellion against the chaos of the world and the uncertainty in his own life.

I hope viewers will be transported into the world that Mr. Alamedy so lovingly and painstakingly creates, and find beauty and solace there.