See­ing how the other half lives

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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.

Vul­ner­a­bil­ity, con­tin­ued on 5

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