Colbert’s emotional monologue about Trump and the election says more than I could, so here it is:
Ahead of Lockdown Part Deux this week, I headed out to Somerset House to see the Leila Alaoui photo exhibition. She was a French-Moroccan photographer and filmmaker, who died in January 2016 at the age of only 33. She was caught in gunfire during a terrorist attack in Burkina Faso, and died of her wounds three days later.
Alaoui was a commercial photographer for magazines and NGOs. She travelled all over the world, but it is her photos and film of Syrian refugees, young North Africans seeking an alternative future in Europe and migrant workers on the edges of society in France that are on display in Somerset House (until February next year, so plenty of time to go after lockdown ends).
A number of Alaoui’s collections were grouped together in this exhibition: Les Marocains, No Pasara and Natreen (“We Wait”), as well as her final unfinished video work L’Île du Diable (Devil’s Island), exploring the lives of a 1960s generation of dispossessed migrant workers in France.
Alaoui’s photos of refugees in Lebanon, Natreen (see above) make us look directly into the migrants’ eyes, as equals, in a way that we are rarely asked to. “With a fine art aesthetic and a photojournalistic working method,” writes Charlotte Jansen for Artsy, “she was looking for a means to capture a more nuanced picture that expresses the many layers of a life lived [my emphasis] —approaching the psychological, fictional, and factual sides to every story of transition.”
The shiny black backgrounds of Les Marocain’s larger-than-life-size photos show the viewer back to themselves - you can see me clearly reflected in the second photo below.
And the film footage, L’Île du Diable, stays fixed on its subjects’ faces for half a minute at a time, so nearly like a still, except for tiny micro-movements: a twitch, the suggestion of breathing, a quick blink, as they hold our gaze.
It can feel uncomfortable, at times, the eye contact with people who aren’t there, and aren’t really looking at us. They’re looking at Alaoui. The gaze is never hostile. It’s sometimes questioning, sometimes warm. It tells us a little about the artist, but we can’t ever know much more about the other layers of her life.
A really thought-provoking and impressive exhibition to see before locking myself down again - do try to go when we’re free again.
Cori Bush’s historic win in Missouri and her moving acceptance speech are major two highlights of the (first) election night.
Here’s an episode of Freelance Pod that feels relevant this week: Journalist and activist Lewis Raven Wallace busts the myth of ‘objectivity’ at the heart of American journalism
If you enjoy my work & fancy buying me a virtual coffee, I’d be delighted (and will hopefully experience a virtual caffeine rush):https://ko-fi.com/suchandrika