Escape Routes and Waiting Rooms
The International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York displayed last summer Escape Routes and Waiting Rooms the first exhibition by the collective Foundland in the United States.
Foundland is an artist collective based in Amsterdam and comprised of Ghalia Elsrakbi from Syria and Lauren Alexander from South Africa. In the exhibition, the artists make known the personal story of a family’s migration from Syria due to its ongoing conflict and how this narrative tells a more universal allegory of refugee life.
In the center of the exhibition stood the installation Friday Table, a white table large enough for 19 people. Each name and place setting represents Elsrakbi’s family members who were born in Damascus, but many of whom fled. Fifteen relatives left Damascus, and thus, only four physical plates remain at the table. Family members’ names and statistical information are printed on the table, replacing the 15 plates. Information includes the name of the family member, his or her place of birth, current location, future plans, route of escape, online activity, and current job. Many of the refugees hardly use the internet, limiting their activities to email; some have no online presence at all.
“The table questions the distinction between what seems temporary but is becoming permanent,” Elsrakbi explains.
In accordance with both artists’ training as graphic designers, the table presents the vast amount of information in a simple and understandable manner. Black, block lettering clearly states the basic facts, various symbols identify the family member’s role and marital status (grandmother, child, married, divorced), patterned lines connect each plate to the city in which the person now lives, and a key reveals the meaning of all symbols and patterns. Some family members are missing, many have been arrested, and those who are traceable now live around the world in Cairo, Berlin, Aachen, Amsterdam, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Mostar, and the Zatari refugee camp.
The layout of the table represents the seating plan of Elsrakbi’s weekly family Friday lunch ritual: a ritual that once seemed permanent, yet quickly shattered as family members fled. Some flights seemed temporary, but have since become permanent because certain family members cannot return to Syria.
Moving further into the exhibition the name of the exhibition became clear: it is art about both escape and indefinite waiting—two words that plague refugees’ lives. Another installation, Waiting Room, presented a tent onto which hand-drawn floor plans are projected. Paper copies of these floor plans hang on the wall opposite the tent. Alexander and Elsrakbi asked Syrian exiles to draw the ground plans of their homes in Syria as they remembered them and how they were used. “Many refused to do it at first,” Elsrakbi said. “But then I realized that was a good question to ask them.”
Escape Routes and Waiting Rooms was on view at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (1040 Metropolitan Ave, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through September 26.