Fri 1 Sep 2023 to Thu 12 Oct 2023
Tue-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 11am-5pm
Opening: Friday 1 September, 6pm-8pm
Galerie Peter Kilchmann Zurich presents a group exhibition dealing with issues of migration, displacement, refuge, and the resulting challenges to the individual and their respective communities. The exhibition is a continuation of the gallery’s ever-present focus on socio-political issues and the inclusion of diverse cultural perspectives.
As of summer 2023, official estimates of the current number of refugees and displaced persons globally are at records highs. Ongoing crisis on the African continent, Latin America, and South East Asia, produce steady streams of migrants. In addition, the European continent has been thrown into an unforeseen turmoil due to Russia’s military campaign against Ukraine. In previous decades conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and the Balkans have faced an almost careless denialism in Western communities regarding their urgency. The current exhibition at Galerie Peter Kilchmann combines the narratives of ten artists whose work contribute to the essential discussion about this issue. The exhibition’s title is adapted from Didier William’s (b.1983., Port-au-Prince, Haiti, based in the US) diptych Chevalier: The Other Side of the Mirror is Home,a work that intimately conveys an immigrant’s struggle of recreating or mirroring the social structures from what they have left behind and the challenges they face while creating bonds with their new environment. The attempt to create a duplicate of the old familiar and a sense of home often stands at odds with the new reality. The mirror image begins to distort and to struggle with its reflection as the shift from stranger the newly adapted persona proceeds. It becomes a fix illusion to capture an image or a memory that is eventually lost or has overtime becomes alien itself. William witnessed this first-hand in his early childhood years when his parents migrated from Haiti to the US.The second painting be the artist is in the exhibition is titled I wanted Her to Kill Him but She Didn’t, 2023, and refers to a trauma from his teenage years. The artist was frustrated by his parents limited agency due to unjust power balances deriving from their alien status. However, by transforming the insecurities and bitterness from his younger years into a powerful painting the now adult artist triumphantly overcame the injustices migrants are frequently exposed to. At the same time, he defused the (often self-) destructive forces the before-mentioned frustration can produce.
Both large scale paintings include William’s signature wood cut pattern of carved eyes that gaze in all directions and back to the viewer. This marks the first time his paintings are featured at the gallery before his forthcoming solo exhibition in June 2024.
In the center of the first exhibition space the prominent installation Untitled (Bicycle), 1974, by Greek artist Vlassis Caniaris (1928-2011, Athens, Greece) explores the theme of the status of migrants and immigrant workers. He left his home country of Greece due to the political climate under the reigning Junta following a controversial exhibition in Athens in 1969. He closely experienced the initial enthusiasm of westward migration within Europe which after the oil shock of 1973 promptly was followed by protectionism and xenophobia.The sculpture belongs to Caniaris’ most significant group of works, Gastarbeiter - Fremdarbeiter, that he created in Berlin between 1971 and 1976 and was exhibited at the 1988 Venice Biennale and Documenta 14 in 2017 amongst other. Untitled (Bicycle) embodies not only a simple means of transportation but also the poverty and social marginalization that migrants like Caniaris’ experienced in Berlin. To create his works he depended on inexpensive materials and found items that he appropriated and repurposed. In opposition, with Adrian Paci’s (b. 1969, Shkoder, Albania) series Home to Go, 2001, a migrant figure humbly carries on his back an overturned roof, almost transforming into a wing-like shape. He thereby, like Caniaris, produces a similarly poignant metaphor for the migratory experience. It is a literal transition from one homeland to another and the weight this experience bears, both figuratively and literally. Shirana Shahbazi’s (b 1974, Teheran, Iran, lives in Zurich)photo collages were produced in collaboration with Anne Morgenstern (b. 1976, Leipzig, Germany, lives in Zurich). As a founding member of the Think Tank INES (Neue Schweiz), Shahbazi advocates initiatives to support immigrants and co-creates concepts for their successful integration into a post-colonial / post-migration Swiss society. Shahbazi used the portraits by Anne Morgenstern as a base for her collage work. They show inhabitants of the Hardau settlement in Zurich. The site was built in the late 1970s and it was conceived when immigration was considered a vital part to increase the nation’s economic and sociologic strength. The city of Zurich devised the plans for settlements like Hardau as a means to make the region attractive for foreign laborers to immigrate. The images by Shahbazi/Morgenstern put a spotlight on the individual and shine a light on their story. Shabazi herself is the daughter of Iranian immigrants who arrived in Europe in 1980. Leiko Ikemura’s (b.1951, Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, Japan, lives in Berlin) considers herself a successful product of travel, migration, and cultural exchange. She spent many years in different European locations and is herself a bridge between different cultures that often inhabit stark contrasts to each other. Her deep and multilayered oeuvre is the result of her interculturally-shaped biography that combines Japanese Shintoism and the Western European canon of artistic traditions. At first glance the subjects in her series Artists, Popes & Terrorists from 2008 appear like an anonymous, faceless group of individuals. However, in the familiar manner of the artist, they provide a projection space for hope, fear, the mythical, and the whole spectrum of the unknown. Artur Zmijewski (b.1966, Warsaw, Poland)points out how we confront the aspect of the unknown and our urge to deconstruct it. In 2018, he staged the photo series In Between, in which he measures the bodies of migrants and asylum seekers in Paris in a naive anthropometric fashion, referencing outdated ethnographic propaganda. Maybe by cataloguing and quantifying the unknown we can create an illusion of self-comforting control? The exhibition entails four black & white photographs that bleakly document the poverty and hopelessness of the portrayed men.Teresa Margolles (b. 1963 Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, lives in Madrid) also took pictures of migrants as part of an individual documentation. However, she displays the human tragedy of the refugees and migrants in a more personal fashion. The installation La Entrega (The Delivery) is related to Margolles’ research in the border region between San Antonio de Táchira, Venezuela and San José de Cúcuta, Colombia, where she engaged with the sites and consequences of forced migration. Since 2017, Margolles has developed a series of actions with the local Venezuelan refugee community, in order to strengthen their cohesion and the participants' own sense of identity. La Entrega belongs to the major group of works titled Estorbo (Obstruction) for which Margolles involved a total of over 180 young Venezuelan men who work in the area as "carretilleros" and "trocheros" (load carriers). The cube is the result of a performative act that Margolles developed from a temporally displaced combination of dialogue and interaction. The cube is accompanied by a life-size portrait of the participant, captured in the fragile moment when he delivers his t-shirt.
Also in Colombia, Margolles created the work Album de Familia, at the frontier bridge Simón Bolívar. Margolles took two polaroids of Venezuelan migrant families while they were crossing. The family kept one of the photographs and the artist kept the other. The memory of their passage when leaving Venezuela behind is manifested in the polaroid.
Beatriz González’s(b. 1932 Bucaramanga, Colombia, lives in Bogotá) has also witnessed the tumultuous political and economic hardship that caused Margolles’ to explore the migrant issue.
Gonzàlez’ motif of the displaced figure - one that is forced to leave its home region - is a common narrative of her series Desplazamientos forzados (Enforced displacements). When in 2015 the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expelled more than 6‘000 Colombians, who used to live near the Colombian border, the print media is overflowing with images of families, as well as single men and women, crossing the border rivers Táchira and Zulia with their possessions. Based on those images, motifs like groups of people carrying heavy packages, mattresses or even closets on their shoulders, are repetitively processed by the artist within her paintings and drawings. Cuban artist Dagoberto Rodriguez (b.1969, Havana, Cuba)uses a similar visual technique to make a subtle but powerful point about our deluding perspectives. Zooming out from the individual and focusing on the larger image, he puts a focus on the consequences of war and the spread of refugee camps due to recent tragedies. The exhibition contains three works on paper from his Refugee Camps series. In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, mostly Muslims, have fled from a Burmese army offensive and now live crowded together in dire sanitary conditions in Bangladesh. Zaatari is located in Jordan and is the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world.In Havana, the locals who meet in the old city of the port, hope to leave the island and to escape the political, social and economic crisis that has beset Cuba. They feel just as imprisoned, although this part of Havana is not strictly a refugee camp.The aesthetic and almost playful dimension of the wide shots seen from the sky engages the viewer in a paradoxical way. The Lego motif keeps the narrative at a distance and withdraws the viewer from an immediate understanding of the subject. Relationships of human hostility are at the heart of the Refugees Camp series. Rodríguez highlights the strategies of power at work in the repression, control and domination of the social body. Finally, the exhibition contains works by Willie Doherty (b. 1959 in Derry, Northern Ireland) who has explored the conflict in Northern Ireland through his films and photographic works that are bound together by the urban landscape. Between (Where the Roads Between Derry and Donegal Cross the Border), 2018, continues Doherty's investigation into the consequences of conflict and trauma around the world, particularly in the zone between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. These moments of rain-soaked calm are not only testaments to a past conflict, but they are simultaneously haunted by their potential future. The achievements of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement are being threatened by Brexit and we experience the fragility of peace and the undoing of civilized conduct amongst state actors. The monumental achievements in overcoming large-scale violent conflicts in the European continent of the last eighty years are actively threatened and borders between countries are solidifed again. Doherty’s work Home Waiting, 2016 is a film still from a video that shows a lonesome young man wandering around the urban environment of an unknown city. Home (Waiting) revolves around the refugee issue and offers scarce tangible opinions about the young man's health and security or about the way in which such an individual can be looked after under conditions of danger and threat. The work offers no context and conveys a feeling of vulnerability and uncertainty.