By Mashaael Basheer
To dream of a place where the sun shines without bloodshed, where the streets are safe for a midnight walk, where the afternoons are for coffees and friends, where the joy of music and children laughter fulfill the air, where celebrating art and appreciation of history is habit and where home is place you go to at the end of the day to say goodnight for your loved ones who you see tomorrow…
Imagine this place is not your hometown and it’s far away from your country that is torn by ongoing, diverse wars and hideous conflicts, taking away the right to hope or dream for a better tomorrow in your own country.
That’s the worst case scenario! Well now imagine you live in a country where security is high, not a war-zone or in conflict, but you don’t feel you belong and the provided comfort chocks you and blocks your dream from coming true… Thus you dream of a place where the sun shines on an opportunity to live who you are.
Ali had a dream, wrote & described it in a letter, gave it to his uncle and asked him to open it when he arrives in Netherlands. The dream was simple; a boat takes him to where his uncle and cousins lives, that was the only thing in the letter… a drawing of a boat and a wish. The irony lays in the fact that his own uncle is in exile and he dreams of going back to his own country but can’t.
This is not a fiction; this is the story behind Iraqi Artist Sadik Kwaish Alfraji latest solo exhibition Driven by Storms (Ali’s Boat) at Ayyam Gallery Dubai (Alserkal Avenue, Al Qouz). The exhibition breaks down a letter given to Alfraji when he visited Baghdad in 2008 from his nephew, Ali, and asked him never to open it until he goes back to Amersfoort, Netherlands. When Alfraji opened the letter, he saw a boat and one sentence written under it
“I wish this letter takes me to you all… Yours sincerely, Ali”
“You see when Ali gave me an envelope, he made me promise him not to open it until I get to Netherlands. I kept my promise and when I opened it, I realized why he asked me to do so, because he felt the only way to make his wish come true is to release the boat where his cousin’s and uncle are.” said Alfraji to me when I visited Driven by Storms two weeks in Dubai. “At the same time, I want to find away to take me back to Iraq and take Iraq back to where it belongs before the destruction caused by nonstop wars for 30 years.” he concluded with a bitter smile.
Inspired by the letter and curated by Nat Muller, an idea of exhibition was born. Driven by Storms (Ali’s Boat) includes a series of large-scale paintings, charcoal drawings, artist diary sketches, and stop motion video animation in which the artist blends his distinct aesthetics with that of his young nephew, and of his own children. In a childlike style, the pieces draw on crucial existential questions such as the wish to live in peace and security, the pursuit of happiness and self-fulfillment, and the possibility to dream.(source)
In “Take Your Boat and Abandon Your Home” of a young boy walking straight leaving behind a paddle and a boat, head held high looking at stars and a slight highlight on his chest showing his heart in a starlit scenery. Despite of the title, the artwork depicts hope and anticipation in the new, mystical beginning. However both the video installations, one placed on 1st floor of the gallery and second on ground, monitors an imagined melancholy journey of Ali and his boat traveling from one city to anonymous destination, facing obstacles and challenges, leaving the viewer with one question… Is there any hope left?
The Diary Sketches are quite an interesting part of the installation, where Alfraji wrote dozens of small letters with one sentence and sketch pushing Ali towards his dream and asking him to take the challenge and never surrender. Alfraji writes repetitively in one of them “Hit the Destiny Ali”. These letters were never sent to Ali. “I wish my nephew will get the chance to see what his innocent letter, basic wish, turned into and how people involved with it.” Alfraji said.
Each and every artwork of Driven by Storms (Ali’s Boat) invites viewers to engage with them, an immediate connection is built and one can’t take leave the exhibition without visualizing themselves as Ali, a wish to escape bitter reality, a boat not a plane or train, and dream of change. If you are in Dubai you must pay the exhibition a visit, it is continuing until 30 April 2015 in Ayyam Gallery – AlQouz (Dubai, UAE).