D. Dominick Lombardi
On the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, near the Straits of Messina stands an ancient tower filled with contemporary art. The tower, which is of Medieval origin, was originally used as a light house for the treacherous seas here. In the late 18th century, it was converted into a fortress by the English. Today, it is one of the premiere exhibition spaces in Italy, Parco Horcynus Orca, an institution which prides itself on the preservation of the arts, culture, the sea and the lands that surround it which feature many geographic particulars and numerous societies.
For "Incontri Mediterranei (Mediterranean Encounters)," artists from Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Italy install with video, audio and various objects, works that show the commonalities within this diverse area.
This is no more apparent, than in the work of Italians Silvia Amodio and Alessandro Barile. Lingua Madre (2005) is comprised of a video and a number of photo stills placed throughout one large circular space. This installation shows how the ancient sailors of the Mediterranean, regardless or their native language, spoke a simple common language called ‘sabir’ (knowledge) to communicate the practical needs of survival and trade. On top of this, Amodio and Barile interlace the common language of the various dolphin of the same sea which breeds an intriguing combination of images and schematics.
What I found to be of particular interest in this exhibition was the way in which the artists embrace the space within the tower, despite all its irregularities and peculiarities. Moroccan Mounir Fatmi makes wonderful use of the heavily textured, earthen walls of the tower. Fatmi’s installation L’Homme sans Cheval combines a video of a very proper horseman projected onto one wall just beneath a small squarish skylight window. The interplay of the fractured and distorted luminous video against the rocky wall, and the soothing filtered light of the portal just above it is hard to forget. Also in the room are two large clusters of objects made of colorful rails and stands used in horse jumping competitions. These two areas hint at the culture of the wealthy, and how the haves can transcend the obstacles of life, while the oppressed haven’t a chance.
Khaled Hafez, an Egyptian, also offers a compelling and telling video. Idlers’ Logic (2003) is installed in a small room with a dimly lighted cross-vaulted ceiling which intensifies its voyeuristic qualities. The video shows how easy it is to make a North African, an Arab or a Middle Eastern person look like a terrorist by showing them in close quarters, and in dimly lighted rooms. What one finds, if one takes the time to look and observe, is that these people are just like anyone else, with dreams, talent and aspirations.
Another Egyptian, Moataz Nasr, tries to reconcile, or at least make sense of his relationship with his father by recounting his father’s past marital transgressions. Father and Son features two men in conversation–the son recollecting the father’s behavior (somewhat indifferent) and how it affected him, with an occasional hint of remorse. What this interaction brings to the fore, is how women in general are viewed in some Middle Eastern societies, and how rights and privileges of men supersede those of women. An engrossing work.
Salah Saouli from Lebanon installs a sort of mumbly confusing audio that fills one small, rather dark room with sound. Also in the room, emerging from a large squarish alcove is this odd, sort of wave-like form comprised of numerous strands of red yarn with what one assumes are private notes rolled up, and tied at each end. This mixture of sounds, and the red wave of countless notes is somehow both anxiety producing and calming, pointing to the futility of conflict, and the loss of the individual’s point of view.
Walid Maw’ed, a Palestinian, offers at a number of sites throughout the area, a piece called Waiting for Water. This work consists of variously sized black curtains that block the view of, or hinder the flow of water. In so doing, Maw’ed brings to the fore the problem of the distribution of potable water in the West Bank–a constant physical and political struggle between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Other artists in this intelligent, powerful and poignant show are Algerian Samta Ben Yahia, Moroccan Safaa Erruas, Palestinians Emily Jacir, Raeda Saadeh and Ahlam Shibli, Egyptian Hala El Koussy and Italians Paolo Di Bello, Mario Biraghi and Enrico Salemi.