The distance we walk from the point where we stand when we first see Hiwa K’s artwork and the place where it is located can define the same kind of migratory distance covered by the artist in the 1990’s in the Middle East, Turkey, Greece and Italy. How is this possible? Why is the distance between Hiwa K’s work and me the same distance he himself travelled in his frantic struggle for liberation from terrifying circumstances?
In an unknown and undefined space, time and the senses are anesthetized, altered and unidentified. The same physical distance is perceived as taking decades to cover by some people, but only seconds by others. For some it is just a couple of meters, for others, it is nine thousand kilometres. This is the universe of the video created by Hiwa K, an artist of Iraqi origin, who includes and immerses the viewers in his moving poetic image.
Hiwa K configures a route in a performative gesture, balancing a sculptural object built by himself on his forehead. The object assumes the shape of a crutch on which mirrors of different sizes have been mounted. The vectors of the trajectory take the form of the perception of space through the mirrors that are placed at angles calculated to provide a wide field of view. In front of us, the artist stares up and walks cautiously through natural, urban and industrial landscapes, while his voice narrates a personal drama, sometimes in a playful and metaphorical way.
The dilemma about distance is that we become aware of what space means as a subjective dimension and how there will always be an equidistant detachment between reality and interpretation. I perceive the matter between me and the artwork as an exercise of imagination for future journeys. An artwork speaks to me about biased realities, places and characters that I integrate into my experience and approach meticulously, with almost no trace of artificiality. I mark my steps until I get closer to the artwork, not with generally accepted units of measurement, but through phenomena related to an identity structure belonging both to me and to the artist, who is present through his extension. To us, those standing in front of the artwork, it is frustrating that at the moment of immersion, our escapism becomes a fraction of the compulsively absurd reflection of what happens within the artwork. The act of looking becomes a testimony to the impossibility of getting closer. We weep, hope and rely on a change or improvement of our personal condition, just as the subjects exposed to a violent global catastrophe rely on their sense of self-preservation.
A Blind Mother Tongue
The sound of his voice vibrates with the specific moments in his life when his experience dictates an impact. The narrative at the beginning of the video marks a point of view on Hiwa K’s resilience to have lived even before birth. “From that moment on, I started an affair with reality,” he confesses, because reality, although fragmented, like a tumult of derisory and random events rooted in human existence, underlines the idea that the mother tongue is the only identity-related possession with which the artist remains. As we see it, the incisive role of the mother tongue is to develop resistance against suffering and difficulties as a mechanism for activating the collective consciousness.
Roads travelled for decades that seem almost familiar to the artist speak of mass migration from conflict areas, a collective and transgenerational tragedy. The feet are turned into instruments: they become independent, they have thoughts, they are personified, but they are enslaved to the almost tyrannical purpose of the limbs and the higher consciousness of travelling, leaving, fleeing. This is the most striking metaphor of decentralizing the self in one’s own body.
More than political and social criticism, the artist’s video relies on the initiatory path of the immigrant, creating a subjective, sensitive, surreal textbook to characterize his unique experience that can be extrapolated to a community, to ancestors and descendants alike.
Towards the end of the video, in a transient state, the image disappears, leaving behind a black screen, at which point the voice switches from English to the artist’s native language. The mother tongue alludes to a dream, to the hope of a free and prosperous homeland. Silence is the only witness to our presence, states the artist, and we can add that blindness is the creator of distance.