What items would one choose if forced to live in a vehicle? Syrian-German artist Manaf Halbouni created imaginary Car-Homes in Malta in the frame of the art exhibition, “The island is what the sea surrounds” curated by Maren Richter. During the duration of the exhibition visitors can book the vehicles to spend the night in the installation.
The artwork is inviting to think about the realities of forced, restricted and chosen mobility. Displacement can be caused by catastrophes like war or natural disasters. Victims are forced to leave and often restricted in their movement by borders they may not pass. From 2014 on Hundredthousands of Syrians left their homes in a car. Some could pass the Turkish border, some started living in their cars waiting to pass.
Displacement can also be caused by social shifts like gentrification and a rising gap between the rich and poor. In Malta gentrification is evicting the local population from central areas due to the rising prices. Real estate got a battlefield for investors as everywhere in Europe. Homeless in metropoles’ like Berlin and Dresden are often using shopping cars or small carrying vehicles to store their belongings. In Germany, the discourse against refugees is sometimes mixing these realities in an arbitrary way. A sudden wave of solidarity with local homeless was more triggered by xenophobia then rooted in social conscience. When refugees were placed in Sport-facilities some people demanded to take care of German Homeless first, while no-one had ever cared much for the social hardship of those before.
Selecting the title “Uprooted” Manaf Halbouni recalls for these dystopian realities while still leaving space for a personal utopia. Building an island of one’s own in a vehicle can also offer a space of liberty when the mobility is a matter of choice.
Dal-Baħar Madwarha-The island is what the sea surrounds- Art exhibition curated by Maren Richter in the frame of Valletta 2018, 25.3.-1.7.2018
Manaf Halbouni is known for his political installations in public space. The artist spend his childhood in Syria and settled several years ago in Germany. His plans to return to Syria after studying art were destroyed by the exploding violence in the country he called home. He started to use vehicles as a symbolism for modern nomadism and as a tool for political statements. In Halbounis place of residence, Dresden in Saxonia, the xenophobes around the movement “Pegida” (European Patriots struggling against Islamization of the West) are demonstrating regularly. In 2015 Halbouni started joining some of the gatherings with a car patterned as a vehicle for “Saxonians on the run”. The work was satirical and provocative. Garden gnomes and Beer boxes were fixed on top of the car as items the Saxonians would choose as their basic needs if they had to flee.
In 2017 Manaf Halbouni balanced three buses on their ends in front of the Frauenkirche in Dresden to evoke the suffering of civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo. The art installation, titled “Monument,” mirrors a barrier made of buses that was placed on a street in Aleppo to protect residents from sniper fire. It was criticized by the far Right in Germany and appreciated by a majority of people wishing to show solidarity. A couple of month later the art work was moved in front of the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin.