February 17th – May 10th - 2015
‘In exile, I made a pair of glasses to see with.’ Having chosen to leave Morocco, the country where he was born and received his first intellectual training, Mounir Fatmi has since lived with an acute awareness of separation, displacement and the weight of identity, ‘the worst legacy you can ever have’. In the words of Paul Bowles — one of the authors Fatmi is closest to — it is better to be a traveller than a tourist (who accepts his own civilisation without question) and instead to compare it with others and ‘reject those elements he finds not to his liking’. Entitled Permanent Exiles, Mounir Fatmi’s exhibition at Mamco tackles the themes that recur throughout his work: identity, history, the body, language. All these things speak of exile, separation and the impossibility of language, and express the difficulty of encounter. How to resolve the intense, crucial moment of separation, even if this is a deliberate choice? Inevitably there will be a ‘before’ and ‘after’.
This existential discontinuity is literally reflected in some of Fatmi’s sculptures, such as The Paradox (2013). On the circular blade of an ancient grinder, Arabic calligraphy carved into the steel reproduces a line from the Koran on monotheism and a grinding machine. Once the machine starts running, the text loses all meaning. Remnants of writing are scattered next to the machine, all ready to be ground. Whether in letters, words or sentences, language is a constant feature of Mounir Fatmi’s work. Often overprinted on an image, it generates not only meaning but also travels beyond the image, which is essentially incomplete. All these super-imposed symbols, circles and writings cannot satisfy the swift glance, but force it to linger, to move beyond what is given.
The video The Blinding Light (2013) is based on a Fra Angelico painting entitled The healing of Deacon Justinian (1438-1440). Fatmi focuses here on a strange medical act that Saints Cosmas and Damian were required to perform: grafting a black leg onto Deacon Justinian’s white body. Cosmas and Damian, Syrian-born, Christian converts, were to be martyred and decapitated for their practice of medicine. With his passion for science, Mounir Fatmi superimposes the images of Fra Angelico’s painting and a modern operating theatre full of lights and technology. In this unexpected mix, the transparency of the images blends religion and science, faith and knowledge, past and present.
Has the time not come to stop thinking of the other as the stranger, to escape from ethnic or religious diktats? Mounir Fatmi has conducted an inquiry into Salman Rushdie, whom he considers a ‘truly critical voice’. In a series of works under the pseudonym Joseph Anton, which Salman Rushdie also used to describe his clandestine life in the wake of the fatwa death sentence, Fatmi produced three photomontage portraits of Joseph Conrad, Anton Chekhov and Salman Rushdie, as well as an experimental film entitled Qui est Joseph Anton? (‘Who is Joseph Anton?’, 2011-2014). He concluded that it is impossible to live in someone else’s skin.
Pursuing this inquiry, Mounir Fatmi’s experimental film Darkening Process (2014) looks at the writer and activist John Howard Griffin’s attempt to go into exile within his own skin. By ‘becoming black’ he hoped to perceive the injustices experienced by his Afro-American fellow citizens in the 1950s and 1960s. Memory, the past, oblivion, reconstruction — Fatmi never ceases to dig his heels in, challenging his own experience and the history of the world.
The short video L’Histoire n’est pas à moi (‘History doesn’t belong to me’, 2013-2014) is a response to the censorship of one of his works, Technologia, in which verses from the Koran were combined with elements inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs. In this video, history is written on a typewriter with two hammers, a history that is nothing but illegible gibberish but bears the traces of the violence of the gesture. Whatever his way of working, and whichever media he uses, Mounir Fatmi returns again and again to the clash of cultures that he has experienced and witnessed, the documents that testify to history, its hesitations and contradictions — in a state of vigilance that focuses on forgotten memories.