When Portraits and Places Are [dis]Orient

dis•o•ri•ent (dɪsˈɔr iˌɛnt, -ˈoʊr-)


1. to cause to lose one’s way.
2. to confuse.
3. to cause to lose perception of time, place, or one’s personal identity.
I was told about [dis]orient last May in SumarriaLunn Gallery, London by its curators Noor Kadhim and Piero Tomassoni and it would be in June which I knew I was going to miss it… But learning about it and concept excited me to write about parts of the shown artworks that mesmerized me.
What is the similarity between humans and buildings? They can both be forgotten, unappreciated and abandon. Both also carry memories of stories that are priceless and in many cases hard to put your hands on them.
[dis]orient brings together the work of Rä di Martino, an Italian artist whose travels have taken her across North Africa, and Nedim Kufi, an ‘exiled’ Iraqi artist who now lives and works in the Netherlands. The show will present a dialogue between the two artists’ works, exploring the relationship between fiction and reality, past and future, and the ethereal concept of ‘Home’ and ‘Habitat’. In particular, what does ‘Home’ represent for displaced people’s, and to what extent is there an interrelationship between the real and the imagined, when one thinks of ‘Home’?

[dis]orient Portraits

Nadim Kofi
Nedim Kufi. Untitled from (Jaffa Series), Cut pages from found book, found dried flowers, custom mounting. 23 x 31cm, 2013. Courtesy: SumarriaLunn Gallery

Capture your memories in a small notebook, they say one picture says thousand words so let the picture speak, add to it a hint of life by attaching flower or rose to each photo; as dried roses my lose their radiance but never scent. Hide the small notebook for more than 5 decades and let an  anonymous find it, flip pages, engage with it and take them to another era and leave the future of the notebook’s memories for his imagination.

If you think this is fiction you are wrong! This incident happened with Iraqi artist Nedim Kufi who presented in [dis]orient exhibition a series of photographs of the Palestinian residents of Jaffa during the 1930’s. The photographs originally found in a book by the Dutch photographer Frank Scholten, who travelled in Palestine and was inspired by the simple lives of the residents to document their lives. Discovering the book by chance in a second-hand store, Kufi was moved to transpose real Dutch flowers, which he found pressed and dried between the pages of the book, onto Scholten’s images to preserve this cultural juxtaposition. Here evidence of the Jaffa residents’ existence is now framed within the perception of those who never knew them in a relationship that simultaneously affirms and subvert the Orientalist notion of ‘the Other’.

Kufi’s artwork is heart touching, taking into consideration everything it relates to since 1930 until 2013. Imagine how these people felt back then when a western took photos of them in city they had no clue that 18 years later will be occupied and everything they had will be taken away, by force. Perhaps they looked at Scholten as another orientalist, who is documenting his own memories in the region. The dried Dutch roses and flowers attached with each photo could depict: state of harmony between the photographer and his own photos, or hint of hope and peace locked away with these memories or  cultural juxtaposition. Together with the photos they create a scene of  contraditions: death in dried plants vs life in captured souls. 

Regardless what they stand for, the body of work holds intimate memories and incidents of people who perhaps no longer live, some were displaced since the Israeli invasion on Palestine, while others may not be aware where their portraits stand today… 

Nadim Kofi. Courtesy: SumarriaLunn Gallery
Nedim Kufi. Untitled from Jaffa Series, Cut pages from found book, found dried flowers, custom mounting. 23 x 31cm, 2013. Courtesy: SumarriaLunn Gallery

[dis]orient Place

Rä di Martino. Courtesy: SumarriaLunn Gallery
Rä di Martino. Courtesy: SumarriaLunn Gallery

Ever wonder how did the cast of ‘Mohammad, Messenger of God’ released in 1977 filmed the movie in Holy Mecca, when it is known that christians are not allowed to go to Mecca?! If you thought the entire city of Mecca was built in Hollywood, you got it wrong! The entire city was built in Morocco. Want more shocking fact?! Star Wars movie set were also built in Tunisia. Not many people are aware of this fact, but these sets after they are cast is done with they completely abandon them, and governments of course will not do any maintenance or turn them into touristic attractions. However thanks to Italian photographer Rä di Martino who found these sets in the middle of the North African desert and documented them. 

Enticed by abandoned Hollywood sets in North Africa, di Martino’s travels in Morocco and Tunisia resulted in a profound engagement with these contemporary ruins. Ranging from basic dwellings to elaborate temples, these sets formed part of the fictional habitat of film characters, today however their ruins appear to substantiate the history of inhabitants that never existed.

Ra di M No More Star Wars Item 3. Courtesy: SumarriaLunn Gallery.
Rä di Martino NO MORE STARS (Abandoned Movie Set, Star Wars) Chot El-Gharsa, Tunisia. Lambda Print in wooden frame 30 x 30 cm, 2010 Courtesy: SumarriaLunn Gallery.

The exhibition [dis]orient by Rä di Martino and Nedim Kufi is running until June 28, 2013 at Sumarria Lunn Gallery, Mayfair, London.

About Rä di Martino & Nedim Kufi

Rä di Martino was born in 1975 in Rome and is a graduate of Università degli Studi di Roma. She later lived in London and studied at Chelsea College of Art and Slade School of Art before moving to New York. She is known for her photographs, video works and installations which often use the language of cinema to explore the passage of time. Di Martino has been exhibited in numerous solo and group shows at prestigious galleries and museums worldwide including the Museum of Modern Art PS1 (New York), Palazzo Grassi (Venice), MACRO (Rome) and most recently at Tate Modern in London for the group exhibition Ruins in Reverse (showing until 24th June 2013) about the divide between historical monuments and discarded urban ruins. Rä di Martino currently lives and works in Turin.

Nedim Kufi was born in Baghdad in 1962. He fled after serving in the Iraqi military during the Iran-Iraq war and, after moving from country to country, later settled in the Netherlands in the early 90’s. He has utilised many materials and mechanisms – organic henna, handmade paper, video, animation and installation – to narrate the struggle of departing his homeland for a life in Europe. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad, at the European Ceramic Work Centre in the Netherlands and at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Utrecht. Kufi has participated in solo and group exhibitions across the Middle East, United States and Europe including Tate Modern and KW Berlin.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. inaya says:

    THUMBS UP……….. this article was exceptionally interesting to read, Bravo AL Maha

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