Critics’ Picks

Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, The Concrete Tent, 2015–18, concrete, steel, cement board, solar powered LED lights, 9 8/10 x 13 x 16 1/2".

Abu Dhabi

Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti

NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
New York University Abu Dhabi A4
February 24–June 9

The seven installations here form gathering spaces where architects Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti challenge visitors to identify with the growing phenomenon of permanent displacement. Mindful and intelligent, this retrospective renders their activist-oriented oeuvre secondary to the research and outcomes of their spatially dominant interventions into art, architecture, and refugee communities. For fifteen years, the duo has collaborated with Palestinian refugees on initiatives focused on the changing conditions of displacement, bringing necessary context to their films and installations while resisting the idea of victimization.

“Refugee Heritage,” 2018, Luca Capuano’s series of large lightbox photographs of the Dheisheh camp, takes up the main hall, obstructing passage for visitors weaving through unexpectedly familiar landscapes, including a Venetian street slipped in to highlight the not-so-disparate terrains. Common Assembly, 2011–18, a concrete wall running through a pillar and bisecting the gallery, illustrates the frustrating realities of sociopolitics by alluding to the outcome of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, where constructing a Palestinian Parliament Building proved futile due to zoning atop the Palestinian-Israeli border. The life-size The Concrete Tent, 2015–18, underscores how provisional fixes become permanent, its placement outside the gallery on NYU campus grounds reinforcing how the phenomenon isn’t localized to distant territories.

Living Room, 2018, Hilal’s performance exploring the delicate balance between assimilation and preservation of cultural heritage, emphasizes the dilemma at the core of the exhibition. A reenactment of a refugee couple in Sweden reclaiming fragmented normalcy by hosting Swedes—students, in Hilal’s case—the work, in its accessibility, belies the complexity of a question difficult for many to authentically contemplate: To endure strained conditions of transitory living in hopes of return, or to convert temporary means into permanent fixtures in an imposed, if facilitated, lifestyle?