MEDITERRANEANS, Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome at Mattatoio, Rome. 4 June – 19 September 2004.(Participating artists: Anri Sala (Albania), Adel Abdessemed (Algeria), Melik Ohanian (Armenia. Lives in France), Damir Niksic (Bosnia), Andreja Kuluncic (Croatia), Tomo Savic-Gecan (Croatia), Slaven Tolj (Croatia), Iman Issa (Egypt), Hassan Khan (Egypt), Mahmoud Rifaat (Egypt), Wael Schawky (Egypt), Panos Kokkinias (Greece), Deanna Maganias (Greece), Dimitris Tsoublekas (Greece), Yael Bartana (Israel. Lives in the Netherlands), Valery Bolotin (Israel), Amit Goren (Israel), Raffie Lavie (Israel), Michal Na’aman (Israel), Gill Shani (Israel), Nahum Tevet (Israel), Roberto Cuoghi (Italy), Avish Khebrehzadeh (Iran. Lives in USA), Raffaella Nappo (Italy), Jakup Ferri (Kosovo), Walid Raad (Lebanon), Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas (Lebanon), Oliver Musovik (Macedonia), Khalil Rabah (Jerusalem), Raeda Saadeh (Umm el-Fahem), Sharif Waked (Nazareth), Mircea Cantor (Romania. Lives in France), Vadim Fishkin (Russia. Lives in Slovenia), Victoria Vesna (Serbia/Montenegro. Lives in USA), Zoran Naskovski (Serbia), son:DA (Slovenia), Tobias Putrih (Slovenia), Marti Anson (Spain), Antonio Ortega (Spain), El Perro (Spain), Hussein Chalayan (Turkey), Erkan Özgen (Turkey), Sener Özmen (Turkey).)

Victoria Vesna, 'Balkan Ghosts' (interactive projection, 2004).

With “MEDITERRANEANS,” the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (MACRO) initiated a huge exhibitive project that involved ten curators and about forty-five artists. The theme of the project is “Mediterranean,” or more precisely, the observation and re-definition of this incredibly complex area that in the last years has seen profound political, economical, social, and cultural transformations.

The team of the curators involved – Zdenka Badivinec (Slovenia), Ami Barak (France), Dobrila Denegri (Serbia/Montenegro), Katerina Gregos (Grece), Mai Abu ElDahab (Egypt), Vasif Kortun (Turkey), Gianfranco Maraniello (Italy), David G. Torres (Spain), Sarit Shapira (Israel), and Jalal Tuffic (Lebanon) – believed that the Mediterranean needs to be considered as a sum of a number of sub-units which challenge or contest a-priori unifying ideas.

This region has always been a cross-roads and point of encounter, a place where three continents (Europe, Africa, and Asia) as well as three religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) meet, a spot where different ethnicities exist and different languages are spoken.

It seemed difficult to regard the Mediterranean as a coherent whole without taking account of the fractures which divide it and the tensions which are tearing it apart. Palestine Israel, the western Balkans, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece Turkey, and Algeria – all are incidents with their roots in other, more distant conflicts.

Therefore, it was essential to orientate the discourse toward today’s urgent questions that ask how contemporary art reflects the possibilities of dialogue between peoples and cultures. The questions function within the broader context of economic globalisation, the enlargement of the European Union, the permanent presence on its soil of immigrant communities, and the issues of identity which these changes raise on both shores of the Mediterranean.

This exhibition, realised in the huge new spaces of the MACRO at Mattatoio, offers a multi-directional insight to different realities that compose this unsettled “Mediterranean” puzzle. It also is an attempt to trace “trans-Mediterranean” features through the principles of choice that guided each curator. In fact, the tendency was to transcend strict regional and geographical borders and invite artists from areas outside the Mediterranean.

For instance, Vasif Kortun included Croat Slaven Tolj, Egyptian Wael Schawky, and Palestinian Khalil Rabah in addition to Turkish artists. Katerina Gregos invited Yael Bartana from Israel, and Israeli curator Sarit Shapira chose two artists from Palestine: Raida Saideh (Umm el-Fahem) and Sharif Waked (Nazareth).

Many artists themselves moved from their home countries in the last years, so we find Anri Sala (Albania), Mircea Cantor (Romania) or Melik Ohanian (Armenian by origin) and Adel Abdessemed (Algerian) in the selection of the curator for France. Vadim Fishkin, a Russian artist based in Slovenia appeared for the Balkans, and Avish Khebrehzadeh, an Iranian raised in Rome and living in USA, represented Italy.

This denotes the movement and migration that has been ever-present in the basin, and is even more present now when the processes of globalisation bring fundamental changes to both shores. It seemed crucial to focus on the phenomena of hybrid and multiple identities, and to try to underline and represent actual itineraries of transformation from past, historical paradigms to present ones.

Therefore the processes of “constructing-democracies” and changing the urban landscape of the capital of Albania, for instance, are seen in films “Dammi colori” by Anri Sala and “Changing Landscape” by Mircea Cantor. Reflections on the passage from past to present define a film by Egyptian Hassan Khan’s, photos by Greek Panos Kokkinias, digitally manipulated prints by Dimitris Tsoublekas and Egyptian Iman Issa, and Walid Raad’s work about Beirut.

The process of passage from one place to the other, of moving as a real and mental dimension, is a theme of the works by Spanish Marti Anson and Greek DeAnna Maganias, as well as those by multidisciplinary and eclectic artist from Turkey Huseyin Chalayan, who focused on the theme of emigration and resettlement.

Andreja Kuluncic explores the same topic from more socio-political angles, radically denouncing difficult status of foreign immigrants in Europe. The drama of the war that shakes many Mediterranean areas and the consciousness of the fragility of human existence are depicted in drawings by Israeli artist Gill Shani, a video installation by Amit Goren, and photos by Croatian artist Slaven Tolj.

With his huge installation dedicated to the “Museum of Palestine,” Khalil Rabah indicates a need to reflect upon the processes of destruction and the maintenance of memory and recollection.

In between the concern about recent past and necessity to turn towards the future is the interactive computer projection by Victoria Vesna (originally from Serbia and Montenegro, living in US) entitled “Balkan Ghosts.”

This work captures the images of the viewers and elaborates them in real time, fragmenting the human shapes and merging them with text that narrates the tragic destiny of Balkanise populations, almost turning the spectators into the “Balkan Ghosts.”

After important exhibitions about the Balkans that have been realised in Graz, Vienna, and Kassel that summed up the last ten years of war, dissolution, and identity crisis, it appeared necessary to indicate new directions in which younger generations of artists are moving.

These directions hypothesize more constructive approaches, creations of new utopias within a contemporary hi-tech information society, as seen in works by Slovenian artists son:DA, Tobias Putrih, Vadim Fishkin, or Tomo Savic-Gecan.

These are some of the examples of how this exhibition about multiplicity of “MEDITERRANEANS” attempted to create a fragmentary and panoramic view of a region whose established frameworks are shifting and displaced as a result of a mixing of peoples, ideas, goods, and services. It is not always entirely possible to identify what has remained unchanged in the different “civilisations” where these transformations have taken place.

This exhibition tried to focus on particular issues in order to offer more general view. Leopold Sedar Senghor encapsulated this when he said that by living the particular to the full, we reach the dawn of the universal. A common civilisation naturally looks to the universal and hence equality, while dialogue thrives on diversity and hence a taste for difference.

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