Does a person's location determine their identity? From 13 December to 14 April, the Tropenmuseum
presents Imagines Places, focusing not on physical location but on our connection with other places. Adrian Paci, Zineb Sedira, Bouchra Khalili, Claudia Cristovão and Ho-Yeol Ryu use photos and video installations to show real and imaginary places, chosen and unchosen journeys. Imagined Places is a presentation about the desire to be somewhere else and the reality of forced migration.
Imagined Places is the last in a series of four experimental contemporary art exhibitions supported by the Mondrian Fund. In these four presentations: The Dono Code, Betsabeé Romero; Cars & Traces, Erick Beltrán; The World Explained and Imagined Places, the Tropenmuseum is developing a vision of art's role in a cultural museum. Imagined Places was compiled by Anke Bangma, who joined the Tropenmuseum as contemporary art curator in 2011.
Striking photos by Adrian Paci and Ho-Yeol Ryu
Two photos succeed in capturing in a single image how migration and mobility have come to define the way people live in today's globalized world. Ho-Yeol Ryu (b. 1971, Seoul) created a composition photo of Hannover Airport, Flughafen (2005), in which aircraft appear to struggle for a place in the sky. The result is an iconic image of our desire for mobility.
Centro di Permanenza Temporanea (2007) by Adrian Paci (b. 1969, Shkoder)
also shows an airport, although here as a metaphorical location where people are stuck in a permanently temporary situation. Men and women are crowding up an air stair, yet there is no plane. The stairs form an island in a concrete waste. The picture suggests that air travel is not for everyone, although global economic inequality forces many to migrate. Paci shows the harshness, and also the absurdity of our uncertain socioeconomic reality.
Impressive video installations show connections to places
MiddleSea (2008), by Zineb Sedira (b. 1963, Paris) is a monumental, immersive video installation about how people can find themselves between different places. MiddleSea shows a man wandering about the empty corridors of a ship at sea. It is unclear where he comes from or where he is going or even whether this is about a real voyage, a dream image or a memory. Mikhail Karikis's soundtrack emphasizes this ambiguity. MiddleSea provides a poetic, universal image of the journeys that generations of migrants have made, both physically, and in memory.
Fata Morgana (2006), a video installation by Claudia Cristovão (b. 1973, Luanda)
features five Portuguese people born in Angola, describing the country they came from. Their stories sketch an imaginary Africa which exists only in inherited memories and projected ideals. Although the place they describe with such passion does not actually exist, it is clear that it forms a genuine part of their identity. The stories are flanked by pictures of a shimmering plain and a deserted city: the landscapes onto which memories and desires are projected.
The Mapping Journey (2009), by Bouchra Khalili (b. 1975, Casablanca)
illustrates the reality of migration. In this video installation, eight people describe the routes they have travelled on a world map. Their journeys demonstrate how lives today cannot be defined by cartographic contours. By taking their experiences as a starting point, and not as exceptions, Khalili challenges viewers to look at maps in a different way, reflecting the reality of migration and mobility.
Personal and shared themes in video
Together, these five works provide an image of a collective experience of a time in which migration and mobility play a central role. Video and photography are powerful mediums for this experience, and enable artists to manipulate reality and fiction and so switch between external reality and internal experience. In Imagined Places, the unique possibilities of video and photography enable the artists to show how people connect to places, especially through memory and fantasy, rather than physical interaction.
Concepts such as culture and identity
The exhibition takes a critical look at the way many define culture and identity by geographical location. How relevant and productive is it in an increasingly globalized world to continue to treat African, Moroccan or Dutch culture and identity as separate and confined? Are there other ways of understanding and representing people's experience of culture and identity? In Imagined Places, five artists offer powerful alternative options.