Critics’ Picks

  • Basma Alsharif, Trompe l’Oeil, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photo: Mustafa Hazneci.

    Basma Alsharif, Trompe l’Oeil, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photo: Mustafa Hazneci.

    Basma Alsharif

    SALT | Galata
    Bankalar Caddesi 11 Karaköy
    February 11–April 26, 2020

    Basma Alsharif’s exhibition here centers around A Philistine (2019), a novella written by the artist that tracks a train journey down the historic Haifa–Beirut–Tripoli line that moves backwards through history at each stop. In the middle of the main gallery, a public reading space offers visitors the opportunity to situate themselves within this narrative of transience. A Philistine includes historic images of pre-1948 Palestine taken from the Library of Congress; these are also displayed on the walls surrounding the miniature library. Alsharif, herself a member of the Palestinian diaspora, has intervened in these photographs, adding Baldessarian black and white circles to block out facial features and places, effectively rendering these highly detailed images siteless.

    “Hereditary sitelessness,” the decades-long experience of forced displacement passed down through generations, resonates throughout Alsharif’s practice. Her diasporic condition leaves Alsharif ungrounded while allowing her to traverse national boundaries, as seen in a series of images of a train trip through former Yugoslavia. These images, which hang from the ceiling around the reading space, rest at the edge of place and nonplace. They most often depict a single feature—the minaret of a mosque or a train station’s name written in Cyrillic letters—that both asserts the uniqueness of these sites and anonymizes it. At the same time, Alsharif’s images construct a parallel between the permeable borders of former Yugoslavia and the (today) unimaginable freedom of movement provided by the Haifa–Beirut–Tripoli line.

    Even home is foreign, unreachable. Upstairs, the artist has re-created her former living room in California, decorating the walls with photographs from the Imperial War Museums’ T. E. Lawrence collection. Haunted by the specter of a colonial past, the installation, Trompe l’Oeil, 2016, is centered around a video in which Alsharif documents her daily routine. As the work cuts between short clips of various domestic activities, home becomes nothing more than a series of mindless rituals.