In his exhibition at Mamco entitled Permanent Exiles, mounir fatmi (b. 1970) tackles the themes that recur throughout his work: history, identity, the body, language – an impossible language, a separate body, an exile’s identity and a difficult history.
This mid-career retrospective brings together twenty-five sculptures, installations and films produced since the opening decade of the millennium. Fascinated by science and technology as well as their potential for alienation, Fatmi confronts man and machine. The exhibition tackles the issues of discontinuity, physical and mental detachment and the vulnerability that they cause. Yet whatever his way of working, and which- ever media he uses, Mounir Fatmi returns again and again to the clash of cultures that he has experienced and witnessed, the documents that testify to history, his hesitations and contradictions – in a state of vigilance that focuses on forgotten memories.
from February 17th to May 10th, 2015
Musée d'art moderne et contemporain
10, rue des Vieux-Grenadiers, CH-1205 Genève
mounir fatmi’s solo exhibition, Permanent Exiles, opens on February 17th at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Geneva, Switzerland. This mid-career retrospective brings together a dense body of work comprising over twenty-five sculptures, installations and films including older pieces from as early as 2000, as well as new work made specifically for the show.
To cut oneself off from one’s identity, one’s history, one’s body, whether by choice or not, these questions and themes are at the heart of Permanent Exiles.
The underlying theme of cutting, detachment, removal, or transplants are seen with sculptures that are literally meant to cut, as with The Paradox, 2013 a steel machine that holds a large circular band saw with a line from the Koran about Monotheism cut out in Arabic calligraphy in its center. When the machine turns, the calligraphy looses its meaning, and the cast-off cut-outs that lie next to the machine are ready to be cut. Constructing Illusion, 2014-2015, an interactive sculpture that references the phenomenon of the “phantom limb” in which people who have lost limbs still feel the sensation of having both. Also on view is a large photograph from The Blinding Light, a series of work that started in 2013 inspired by a 15th century painting by Fra Angelico titled The Healing of Deacon Justinian. The original painting shows two saints, Cosmas and his brother Damian, grafting a black leg onto the deacon Justinian. Born in Syria, Cosmas and Damian were Arab by birth and later converted to Christianity when they began practicing medicine, a calling for which they were eventually martyred by decapitation. Fatmi’s photograph superimposes an image of the painting with an image from a contemporary surgical room with all its lights, technology, and metal equipment. The transparency of images essentially fuses science and religion, present and past.
In a series of work about the pseudonym, Joseph Anton, used by Salman Rushdie during his post-fatwa life in hiding, the name is a mix between his favorite writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov, and Fatmi used images of these three writers to create haunting portraits and an experimental film titled Who is Joseph Anton?, 2011-2014, that almost suggest the impossibility of living in someone else’s skin. This idea goes one step further in his project about the American writer and activist, John Howard Griffin, who was so pained by the injustice experienced by so many African Americans during the 1950s-60s, that he took pills and had UV exposure to turn his skin black. Fatmi investigates Griffin’s experience of literally exiling himself from his own skin and race through an experimental film from 2014 titled Darkening Process, and in a suite of ten photographs titled As a Black Man, that reflect the transition from white to black and the nuance that exists in the shades of gray that lie between.
Fatmi is fascinated by science and technology and its alienating and humanizing potential. For Permanent Exiles he had two large metal armatures, titled Deconstructing Structures, specially designed for the exhibition that resemble the equipment used during medical procedures which hold tools and lights. Here, these Structures are used to present films and sculptures, such as in one room, In the Face of Silence, 2002-2014 a film about the disappearance of Moroccan left-wing political leader, Mehdi Ben Barka, who was kidnapped in Paris in 1965. Though never fully proven, the theory is that his body was cut-up and his head sent back to Morocco to prove his death, and History is Not Mine, 2013-2014, a short film he made after being censured in France in two separate exhibitions in 2012. The film shows the artist using hammers on a vintage typewriter, metal parts and pieces flying about during its destruction,
For Fatmi, the title Permanent Exiles has many layers and meanings. The physical and mental detachment that exists in a state of exile, whether in a new country or within one’s own country, or even with one’s own language that can slowly disappear if replaced by another, creates a state of vulnerability and fear that Fatmi alludes to in much of the work presented in the exhibition. This is a subject he has touched on throughout much of his work over the last twenty years, both on a personal level as well as about others who have been influential to him and his practice. The exhibition will be on view through May 10, 2015.
Text by Blaire Dessent, February 10th, 2015.