Wafaa Bilal, The things I could tell… (2015).
Photo credit: Mark Menjivar.
Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio.
IAIR at Artpace
Three times a year, Artpace invites a group of three artists, selected by a guest curator, to live and work in San Antonio for two months. In its current state, on view through September 13, the exhibition spaces have become deeply political. Selected by guest curator Ian Alden Russell, the three residents – Wafaa Bilal, Fatma Bucak, and Gabriel Martinez – explore, rather deeply, a variety of issues tied into the artists’ experiences and histories. “I feel that Fatma, Wafaa, and Gabriel share an earnestness and empathy in how they are present with people,” Russell said. This notion is evident in each installation.
Originally from Iraq and now based in New York City, Wafaa Bilal has a practice that often lends itself to work based in performative, durational projects. For his installation The Things I Could Tell…, Bilal presents a massive slab leaned against two walls of the gallery, creating a smaller internal space that colored light spills out of. Behind this slab is a simple podium. During the opening, Bilal invited James Radcliffe, a US veteran of the Iraq war and Houston-based artist, to select a color reflective of his experiences and stand in military garb for viewers to interact with.
The installation also features a series of miniature busts depicting Saddam Hussein. While their size minimizes the fear associated with the dictator, the overall project beckons to a more personalized experience of war. “The Iraq war impacted me personally and I continue to struggle with its after-effects due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” Bilal stated.
Drawing similarly on this resonance from the past, Houston-based artist Gabriel Martinez’s installation Mountain War Time takes a look into the history of his hometown, Alamogordo, NM. Alamogordo is situated in an area that holds a firm, and somewhat misrepresented position in US history. Just a few miles from White Sands Missile Range, the town was witness to Trinity, the test of the atomic bomb that turned the tide of WWII.
Central to the installation is Henry Herrera’s recollection of the event. As an eyewitness, Herrera describes the roiling cloud after the detonation and goes on to play a song that he’s played at funerals in the surrounding area. Martinez shines a spotlight on those affected by the blast, showing that the effects spread much farther than the 14 miles to Alamogordo, where the radiation has impacted generations.
Twisting between the past and present, Bucak’s installation Over a Line, Darkly expresses a connection the artist feels with the Texas/Mexico border. “Having grown up on a border as a member of the Kurdish minority in Turkey,”she writes, “I have often been drawn to the subject of geographical and political divides.”While there is this personal connection, the installation seems universal. Lines are drawn by groups of people generally unaffected by them, but these lines have a heavy, typically detrimental affect on those who live on or around them.
Through a series of videos and photographs, complimented by a fabric sculpture, the work depicts men and women on their travels between lands and across borders. Grouped separately, the men and women reflect the reality of their journeys – men often running on their own while women travel with children. Although both face danger, the women are often picked up by border patrol and placed in family detention centers. “They wanted to be visible and say ‘a word’ about their story because they know better than anyone else how important it is.”
Although she speaks here of her own installation, Bucak sums up what each artist has done to provide a voice for the groups they feel connected to, taking something unseen and making it visible.