Seeing how the other half lives
t is the kind of role-reversal designed to hammer home an uncomfortable reality. Donald Trump, Bashar Al Assad, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama are portrayed as refugees, standing in bread lines, clad in torn clothes, with dirt-smudged faces and sad eyes, appealing to the viewer for sympathy.
The artwork, by Brussels-based Syrian painter Abdalla Omari, is part of the latest exhibition in one of Ayyam Gallery’s two spaces in Alserkal Avenue.
Titled The Vulnerability Series, the artist’s aim is “to take away [the world leaders’] power, not to serve me and my pain but to give [them] back their humanity, and the audience an insight into what the power of vulnerability can achieve”. The statement is vague. Omari suggests
Ithat in depicting these figures of authority as “vulnerable” refugees, he is showing them as real people with human emotions and, therefore, we should feel empathy for them. But surely it is not the world leaders we should be empathising with, it?
At the same time, Omari says he is shifting the power balance away from the leaders towards the displaced people they represent. It is true that the reasons behind this conflict lie in complex power struggles, but trying to subvert this and place politicians as refugees is to oversimplify the horrendous reality that millions of people all over the world are enduring. And to suggest that any of them have any power, in vulnerability or otherwise, is misguided.
To give the artist the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he is attempting to explore the power of vulnerability in an image. We know that certain photographs have had great effect during this painfully protracted Syrian conflict and the ensuing refugee crisis.
Aylan Kurdi, the 3- year- old boy whose body washed up on a beach after he drowned, is probably the most memorable – but while this and other heart- wrenching images have stayed in our collective memory, they have done little to change what is going on.
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