William Kentridge, Felix in Exile, 1994 (video still)
Memorials of Identity
New Media from the Rubell Family Collection, Miami
June 2 - October 6, 2007
Curators: Mark Coetzee and Luisa Lagos
This exhibition features nine new media works by seven international artists who examine memories, personal legacies and aspects of their backgrounds. Their works explore the political and historical realities of their countries of origin, and of the countries where they now reside. These works seem to suggest that the construction of identity is never entirely subject to individual control. They reveal how identity is shaped by powerful social forces, by the need to belong, and at times also by a collective past we might have preferred to forget. The seven artists use new media in a variety of ways, in accordance with the contents of their works. These include: documentary practices, staged scenes, archival footage and different types of animation.
The connection of individuals to a collective past, and its role in the shaping of identity, is explored in many of these works. William Kentridge's works feature figures that must come to terms with memories of apartheid in South Africa. They reveal that both the former oppressor and the oppressed are held captive by past traumas, and have difficulty transitioning to a new reality. Albanian artist Anri Sala forces his mother to confront parts of her past that she would rather forget. Polish artist Artur Žmijewski's work, which was filmed in Israel, centers upon a group of elderly Polish immigrants. This work questions whether every vestige of our past persists as part of our present, and examines how our choices cause us to forget certain parts of our identity.
The construction of identity is strongly related to place, and to the relation between personal and national identities. Fiona Tan is concerned with early 20th century footage in which European explorers documented groups of aborigines, Maoris, Africans and Berbers. Sven Påhlsson, a Norwegian residing in the United States, and Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, a Japanese artist educated in the States who now lives in Vietnam, have chosen to explore their current countries of residence. Their works reveal their love for and attraction to these places, yet are imbued with poignant criticism. Sigalit Landau's work features a barbed wire hoop that cuts into her body, alluding both to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the Holocaust.
The Rubell Family Collection, one of the world's leading collections of contemporary art, includes works dating from the 1960s to the present. Open to the public since 1996, the Collection operates as a museum and features rotating exhibitions. The current exhibition, which was made possible through the Collection's policy of loaning works to museums and to educational institutions worldwide, constitutes the Israeli public's first encounter with one of the world's most cutting edge collections. The display of "Memorials of Identity" in Haifa, a city in which complex and variegated identities are part of the texture of everyday life, imbues this exhibition with a unique and highly relevant meaning.