Photo by Aizaz Ansari

Permanent Temporariness Exhibition

NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery exhibition examines the increasingly permanent nature of the temporariness of being a refugee.

As of today, 70 million people have been displaced around the world and are constantly experiencing a loss of their identity and safety. In an attempt to allow the public to explore this issue, the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery has invited the artists and architects Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti to showcase their first mid-career retrospective exhibition: Permanent Temporariness. The exhibition, curated by NYUAD faculty Salwa Mikdadi and co-curated by NYUAD Art Gallery Curator Bana Kattan, started on Feb. 24.
Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti have devoted 15 years worth of research and art aimed at discovering the process and implications of cultural heritage, migration, and displacement, in order to compile this exhibition. The main purpose of the exhibition is to closely examine the state of “refugeeness”, where a temporary situation becomes permanent.
The artists aim to explore the relationship between politics and architecture by focusing on Palestinian refugees and those displaced from other nations. Recently, much of the public has been exposed to artwork that aims to develop sympathy for refugees. However, in Permanent Temporariness, the artists deliberately give agency to refugees and moves away from their stereotypical depiction as victims.
The Permanent Temporariness exhibition features seven different installations, each presenting a unique message to the public. The four installations inside the gallery walls — Refugee Heritage, Common Assembly, The Tree School and Ramallah Syndrome — are set up individually, each cohesively presenting a breathtaking story.
Banah Al Amad, a third generation Palestinian who was born and raised in Jordan said, “walking between the photographs made me feel like I was walking down the streets of the refugee camp; looking at the posters that were hung up in the streets, reading the graffiti on the walls, imagining how it must feel like to live in that camp permanently.”
The exhibition extends outside of the gallery space with two notable installations — The Book of Exile, set up in the NYUAD Library, and The Concrete Tent, located behind the East Cafeteria. Each of these installations is crucial to the overall experience of the exhibition.
Lastly, Sandi Hilal’s Living Room performance presenting the idea of the “right to host” was conducted in her apartment during the first week of the exhibition and can now be viewed inside the gallery, an experience truly worth the watch. What is interesting about Hilal’s performance is that it shows the viewers what the act of hosting means and how a simple act of inviting people to your home can be revolutionary in a society.
The exhibition’s ability to immerses visitors in a complete sensory experience where you can hear, touch, see and feel is unique. Al Amad said that the exhibition “spoke to her” on a deeper level. She found the Ramallah Syndrome — an installation where you step in a dark room and listen to the noises of Palestine — most powerful. The room isolates you from the world for a couple of minutes and takes you to a place where you can truly listen to what is being said without any outside distractions.
The exhibition’s highly emotional content can leave some feeling helpless, not knowing what to do with the knowledge they acquired or how to process the emotions they feel. Co-curator Salwa Mikdadi advises visitors to use this as a chance to “reflect on their personal condition; on their own lives.”
“Many people living in the UAE stay here temporarily. People should leave the gallery reflecting on the lives of Palestinian refugees who have been living in this state for 70 years,” she added.
Outside the gallery’s glass walls, words like “responsibility” and “home” are imprinted in white font. These words hold more meaning and depth after seeing the exhibition.
Permanent Temporariness will be on display at the NYUAD Art Gallery until June 9.
Malak Yasser is a staff writer. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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