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After the Canal There Was Only "Our" World

Exhibition at Mestna Galerija Ljubljana

AFTER THE CANAL THERE WAS ONLY "OUR" WORLD

19 September – 10 November 2019
Mestna Galerija Ljubljana

Artists: Ibrahim Ahmed, Amado Alfadni, Meriç Algun, Pavel Brăila, Chto delat?, Shatha Al-Deghady, Marianne Fahmy, Iulia Toma

Curated by Raluca Voinea in collaboration with Ovidiu Țichindeleanu

“The sea is walking in the streets”, wrote Mahmoud Darwish in 1982 in his Memory for Forgetfulness, from under an actual siege replete with waterline cuts and rocket fire trails. Yet in more recent years “Europe under siege” has become a curiously common phrase, concentrating as it were a landlocked imaginary full of fears, not as much for the underground streams pushing from the darkness beneath, as for the external seas walking on European streets and the threat of aberrant fires. As this imaginary is already acting out in mass violence in the seas connecting Europe’s landmass to the Global South, and in renewed claims of nationalist land autochthony, a major re-orientation of consciousness, sensibility and practice is needed for the articulation of hope.
For his part, Darwish inserted a little story of the philosophical refugee Kamal, who stole a boat and rowed from Tyre to Haifa in search of a dove “that no one else knew about”, becoming through his own death by coast guards that wave of exile that “comes back and gets lost”. While looking for renewed connections, we have set on the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 as a vortex-making historical event. In its trail, a myriad little histories may have gotten lost, but are coming back in and over our heads.

In a decisive but insufficiently recalled moment of Orientalism, Edward Said argued that even with all the Western barrage of inventions and projections, in paintings, novels, travel diaries etc., the “Orient” kept a certain irreducible distance from the West’s all-colonizing and universalizing pursuit. However, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, popularized in the European press and by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the CEO of the “Universal Company” of the Suez Canal, as a literal “piercing of the Earth”, marked the end of this distance and the beginning of a new age. “De Lesseps and his canal finally destroyed the Orient's distance… After de Lesseps no one could speak of the Orient as belonging to another world… There was only ‘our’ world… Thereafter the notion of ‘Oriental’ is an administrative or executive one”.
Slovenia’s erection in 2015 of a razor sharp border fence against migrants and refugees, mostly coming from an “Orient” – the Middle East, which has been devastated by repeated Western invasions and some extreme local attempts to maintain an irreducible distance from the West after 1989 - is only the latest dam trying to stop the seas and administrate “our” world. Yet this world has been built at both ends of the Suez Canal, in a process that involved the creation of imperial highways of circulation from Vienna to Ljubljana and Trieste, and from here to “Alexandria and the world”. While a significant part of the European imaginary is engaged today in attempts to limit the symbolic and material “we”, the canal continues to do its work of setting the continents in a process of irreversible connection and transformation.

This exhibition is an invitation to explore a variety of historical and geographical connections between Europe, especially its Easts, and the Middle East, particularly Egypt, with the Suez Canal as the trigger, while contemplating their reflections in the mirror of the present. We want to bring to discussion issues rippling from the Canal story, unraveling from the concentric layers of references, occurrences and encounters that have sedimented in the 150 years since the Canal was inaugurated. These are issues that continue to be relevant today, just as they were at different decisive moments throughout this common history: Orientalism (and its unchallenged relation to the Orient of Europe), migration, refugees and the difficulty of making hospitality great again, natural resources at the core of both the empires’ rivalries and the nationalist discourses, ecosystems that are forever changed by the human intervention, and others.

After The Canal… is an exhibition of contemporary art constructed on a historical background, with multiple references and relationships between the works and the materials presented, in such a way that at least some meanings are created for the place and time where it takes place. The research method used for its building has been developed by the curators of The Resurrection Committee, a fluid collective founded in 2017. We are taking a momentous historical aperture, and through the immeasurable streams it opens, through the different material structures it is made of, through the interchangeable sheets of thin glass that transform it into collective memory, as well as through the coincidences, throws of dice and winds of fate that ground and channel it, we can make more sense of our world, we can see each other’s views and position ourselves in the same aperture, and hopefully revive critical relationships. A previous exhibition realized by the Committee was The Veil of Peace, at tranzit.ro/București in 2017, curated by Igor Mocanu, Ovidiu Țichindeleanu and Raluca Voinea.

Production: Museum and Galleries of Ljubljana
Exhibition made possible by: City of Ljubljana

Design: Ajdin Bašić

Cooperation partner: tranzit.ro/București, supported by ERSTE Foundation.

Research for the exhibition supported through a travel grant offered by Foundation for Arts Initiatives.

Special thanks to: Alenka Gregoric, Eduard Constantin, William Wells, Alexandra Stock, Basim Magdy, Mona Abouissa, Andrea Thal, Livia Pancu, Heide Wihrheim, Serghei Iachimov

Iulia Toma #orientalswelcome, 2016, installation, oriental rugs cropped, dimensions variable © Stefan Sava