Blain|Southern presents shadow of curls, Sislej Xhafa’s first exhibition in Germany.
At the core of Xhafa’s practice are the identity politics that surround the legal status of his country of origin, Kosovo, as well as broader ideas of power, politics, immigration and social and economic mobility. Many of these themes are explored in his pavilion this year at the 57th Venice Biennale, representing the Republic of Kosovo.
In shadow of curls, Xhafa works with a variety of materials associated with different types of migration, as well as a range of quotidian objects that have been re-appropriated, altered or rendered useless. Employing a conceptual mode, he draws upon the history of the readymade to ironic, humorous and subversive effect.
At first glance, an olive tree placed in the centre of the gallery looks out of place amid artworks. Yet hanging from one of its branches, a tag reads ‘don’t touch me’, drawing on ideas of ownership and privacy, while alluding to the history of the olive tree as a symbol of peace, or the tree as witness to history.
In the corner of the space sits a large checked plastic bag, an object so common that it is almost synonymous with human movement. The open bag partially reveals a crystal chandelier, hinting at the hope of a new life, or perhaps a sense of suffocation.
Hanging alongside one another, slightly away from the wall, are large canvases painted uniformly white and each partially covered in clear polythene. Closer inspection reveals barbed wire on the wall, a menacing barrier to another space mostly concealed by the pristine paintings. For Xhafa, the clean, perfect surface masks a darker, grim reality.
In contrast, a monochromatic black painting hangs opposite. The matt surface subtly broken by the word ‘Chicago’ painted in black gloss onto the canvas, which has been tipped on its side. This almost illegible reference is an example of the visual poetry common in Xhafa’s work. Avoiding direct metaphor, the work references multi-layered definitions of violence.
Xhafa’s readymades are household objects, a garden hose, a refrigerator, garbage bags, mattress and a sun shade; his use of concrete has equally domestic connotations of home building, permanence and belonging, yet paradoxically of entrapment and brutal economics.
shadow of curls creates a space where familiar objects are transformed into charged, ambiguous artworks, inviting visitors to participate in conversations about specific moments in history or current affairs, or universal questions about human freedom.
lost and found, the artist’s pavilion representing the Republic of Kosovo at the Venice Biennale, is on view until 26 November 2017.