“Do you like the show?” I asked a fellow visitor in Italian as we were nearing the end. “I do,” he replied, “what I like most, is its sense of equilibrio.
I knew exactly what he meant. Equilibrio is the word that came to my mind too. In English it can be translated as equilibrium, balance, poise, composure or stasis. With regards to this show it refers to all of the above.
The name of the show is borrowed from the collection of poems by the Martinican writer and philosopher Édouard Glissant. It’s a fitting name, which may sound strange given the sense of equilibrio I just mentioned, but somehow both aspects are present.
Curated by Massimiliano Gioni and promoted by La Fondazione Nicola Trussardi and La Triennale di Milano, La Terra Inquieta (The Restless Earth) brings together 65 artists (although it doesn’t seem that many) from 40 countries.
Gioni’s excellent curatorial direction, the integrity of the works, the storytellers whether they are the artists themselves, many of whom have been refugees or migrants, or the people and experiences they portray together with the absence of the mass media all contribute to make this a five star exhibition.
The show highlights many aspects rarely seen via the mass media. The Witness recorded by Abounaddara Films, an anonymous film making company from Damascus, is a series of interviews with different people. In one interview a woman speaks about how she goes to afternoon prayers wearing trousers which is forbidden under the “Islamic State”. Her friends can’t believe it – ‘a girl all by herself facing the “Islamic State”. Talk about a state!’ she says, ‘it’s more like a gang that takes advantage of people’s fear and feels more and more powerful.’ You can see the entire interview here.
The harsh reality of poverty, the devastation of war, cruelty and upheaval – it’s all here but none of it impacted me in the same way as it does via the mass media. I didn’t feel overwhelmed, the need to judge or take a stance but I left with a more empathetic understanding of the migrant and refugee experience than I have honestly ever felt before.
Filmed in Palermo, Sicily, Western Union: small boats by Isaac Julien, is, as he explains, ‘a meditation on Visconti’s The Leopard but set in modern days. We know the story about Visconti, it’s about the decline of the aristocratic classes and, in this moment in time in Sicily, it’s really about, the new émigrés, new people from Africa, coming into Europe.’
It’s incredibly beautiful and thought provoking.
What came to my mind was the unnerving juxtaposition of beauty and evil. For example, we see people at the beach swimming in a crystal blue sea only a stone’s through away from dead bodies covered in foil lying on the shore.
Not surprisingly, means of travel – especially small boats – figure throughout the show. I found Bouchra Khalili’s The Mapping Journey Project particularly informative. She represents eight different illegal journeys made by immigrants coming from north Africa or Africa to France. Each one recounts their journey while tracing it over a map. You can sit, watch and listen to each journey. In Mapping Journey #1 a man describes travelling in a small boat, ‘You can’t even imagine the huge waves and the fear’ he says.
Hope by Adel Abdessemed is a wooden boat filled with cast resin sculptures of stuffed black garbage bags. He found the boat on the Florida Keys. As described on the wall panel it’s, “a likely castoff of migrants arriving from Cuba,” while the black sacks, “offer a blunt metaphor for how the boat’s presumed passengers are regarded by much of society.” ‘Hope,’ says the artist, is the only negative thing in the world.
The precarious nature of life is another strong theme throughout the show. In Mona Hatoum’s Map transparent glass marbles are laid out on the floor as a world map . They’re not stuck to the floor, they’re just placed on the floor, “revealing the planet’s territorial divisions as both dangerous and fragile,” as described on the information panel. While I was there one guy accidently trod on the bottom of South America which rolled away haphazardly. Perhaps the lack of protection is not altogether accidental hammering home the point, I think, that anything can happen to anyone at any given moment in time so in this respect we’re all in the proverbial same boat but I think this is exactly what gives the show that sense of equilibrio which I mentioned earlier.
The show runs until the 20th August 2017 and really worth a visit in you’re in Milan.