Tuesday 12th December 2017
… The second work, Auto Da Fé (2016) or Acts Of Faith, is a diptych that looks at migration through the lens of religious persecution and continues Akomfrah’s longstanding interest in the transmutations brought about by relocation. Presented as a lyrical period drama, the film lays bare colonial and post-colonial experience through its documentation of eight historical migrations over the last 400 years, starting with the little known 1654 fleeing of Sephardic Jews from Catholic Brazil to Barbados and ending with present day migrations from Hombori, Mali and Mosul, Iraq. As the film develops, viewers are presented with multiple tales of displaced populations and attendant feelings of dislocation and alienation. The work is inspired by the writings of George Lamming, who wrote about the quotidian nature of 20th century life in Barbados and migrants’ hopes for a better future, only to find harsher conditions when arriving elsewhere. The work was filmed on location in Barbados, but the landscape is deliberately anonymous, reflecting the universal nature of these stories.
Crossing Surda is a document of Jacir’s experiences, some banal, some harrowing, of crossing the militarized Surda checkpoint that separates Ramallah where she lives from Birzeit University where she works.
A year after Jacir’s expeditions around Israel and Palestine for Where We Come From, while she was living in Ramallah and teaching at Birzeit University, Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers caught her filming her feet near the checkpoint near the town of Surda, on the way to Birzeit. At the Surda checkpoint, she and all Palestinians were required to get out of their vehicles and walk two kilometers on the road before picking up another ride to continue their journey. The IDF patrol detained the artist at gunpoint for several hours in the rain and confiscated her tape. In response, Jacir went home and cut a hole in her shoulder bag and spent the next eight days recording her commute through the checkpoint from Ramallah to Birzeit University. From the swinging shoulder bag, the camera records a muddied road lined with tanks and armored personnel carriers. Figures huddled in the rain press through concrete barriers and avoid watchful soldiers fingering their M-16s. On sunny days, there are glimpses of Jacir’s shadow and the bag that conceals the camera. Shown in an exhibition context as a two-channel installation with a 130-minute compilation of the raw footage projected onto a large screen and a 30-minute montage of select moments from the footage shown on a monitor, Crossing Surda: a record of going to and from work (2002) doesn’t reveal military secrets. But on Jacir’s part, repeatedly filming the checkpoint was a risky act of low-budget reconnaissance and the resulting footage portrays the far-reaching impositions of the occupation on Palestinian society. Correspondingly, the work is much closer to pure documentary—the establishment of facts on the ground—and, in her act of defiance, offers a simple but effective way around them. Despite its tenor of latent outrage, Crossing Surdaembodies an optimism about the potential for documentary, a faith that Edward Said expressed shortly before his death in September 2003: “Whenever the facts are made known, there is immediate recognition and an expression of the most profound solidarity with the justice of the Palestinian cause and the valiant struggle by the Palestinian people on its behalf.”
Maps are an abiding motif for the artist Mona Hatoum. A small carpet, like a prayer mat, depicts a map of the world. Sections seem to have been eroded to leave a negative space in the form of Peter’s Projection, which reveals the true proportions of distributed land mass, as opposed to that which is shown on traditional Western maps.
Elsewhere, a grid of 2,400 blocks of olive oil soap from the town Nabus, north of Jerusalem, sits on the gallery floor in a Carl André-style grid. Its surface is embedded with tiny beads that depict the map of the 1933 Oslo peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Also marked are the territories that should have been handed back to Palestine. Present Tense, as it is called, was originally made in 1966, in Jerusalem and was Hatoum’s response to her first visit to that city.