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SITE Santa Fe opens ‘Displaced’ as contemporary artists confront the world’s refugee crisis

march 15, 2020

Life in New Mexico

“Future Ancestral Technologies: We Survive You,” 2019 film still by Cannupa Hanska Luger.

The artwork screams of forgotten histories, nation-less ghosts, tent cities and bundled belongings.

Opening at SITE Santa Fe on Saturday, March 21, “Displaced: Contemporary Artists Confront the Global Refugee Crisis” asks viewers to bear witness to the highest levels of human displacement on record and contemplate a future where migration is critical to survival.

Ai Wewei, stills from “Human Flow,” 2015.

The exhibition stars 10 artists working in film, video, sculpture, installation and mixed-media. The show also includes daily screenings of the 2017 documentary “Human Flow” by the acclaimed Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei.

“Contemporary artists have a way of addressing the truth,” co-curator and SITE Santa Fe Phillips director Irene Hofmann said.

According to recent United Nations reports, a record 70.8 million men, women and children were displaced from their homes across the world last year due to war, violence and persecution.

Some of the artists are immigrants, others bear witness to the current movement of refugees, while others have created works expressing the trauma of forced displacements across history.

“Desire,” 2018 mixed-media by Hew Locke. (Courtesy of Site Santa Fe)

Glorieta resident Cannupa Hanska Luger (Standing Rock Reservation) is of Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Lakota and European descent. In “Future Ancestral Technologies: We Survive You,” 2019, he created an ongoing multimedia project combining science fiction with a world where migration is essential to survival.

Luger built a solar-paneled teepee with collapsible poles for travel in a Volkswagen van. A colonizer has left the planet, leaving a nomadic people dedicated to the earth. They have realigned with indigenous migration practices and learned how to follow the water and live in balance with the land.

“Woven Chronicles” by Reena Kallat, 2015, circuit boards, speakers, electrical wires and fittings

“It’s people figuring out a way to move freely without the pressure of capitalist consumer culture,” Luger said.

The story takes place 80 years after the dominant culture has fled the planet out of fear of artificial intelligence, he explained. It uses creative story telling to radically reimagine the future.

“It’s a fear of retribution for the subjugated,” Luger said. “It’s a fanciful fiction created by those in power. It’s a guilt-driven fear.

“With global instability, widespread financial crisis and unaffordable housing, our lifestyle must change,” he stated.

Richard Mosse, “Softball Stadium, Hellinikon Olympic Complex, Athens, Greece,” 2017, digital c-print on metallic paper.

London’s Hew Locke spent his formative years in Guyana just as that South American country gained independence from Britain. He built an armada of 13 boats as a metaphor of trade and exploration, as well as warfare and slavery. They hang from the ceiling, some draped in carnival beads, silk and plastic flowers. Others wear barnacles and reflect the slave trade with space for human cargo. Some resemble model boats; the largest measures more than 8 feet.

The Irish artist Richard Mosse uses military grade thermal surveillance camera technology normally confined to the battlefield. The camera detects body heat across great distances in haunting images. Mosse’s photographs, dominated by refugee camps in Greece, show glowing bodies, fire and car engines trapped in a state of limbo, following the flow of people from North Africa and the Middle East into Europe.

South Africa’s Candice Breitzs’ video examines empathy in a series of interviews with six refugees. Actors Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin then re-tell edited versions of their journeys.

Harriet Bart and Yu Wen Wu, “Leavings/Belongings,” 2019 cloth bundles. (Courtesy of Site Santa Fe)

“They’re telling their personal story of trauma, then they’re filtered into a Hollywood package with the toughest details sanitized,” Hofmann said.

Harriet Bart and Yu Wen Wu’s “Leavings/Belongings” piles hundreds of bundles of belongings wrapped in calico, check and African cloth into a mammoth net dangling from the ceiling. Immigrant and refugee women gathered in small workshops to create these cloth packages to share their experiences. Some include poignant, hand-written messages such as, “My family and I are lucky to have a home here, our home in Vietnam is no more there.”

Other projects focus on American border politics.

School of American Research anthropologist Jason de Léon’s “Hostile Terrain 94” consists of 3,400 toe tags bearing the name, age, sex and cause of death and location for migrants attempting to cross Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. The project will continue in 150 locations around the world, including its premier at Santa Fe’s Center for Contemporary Art. Visitors to SITE will be able to fill out toe tag cards to be delivered to CCA in the spring. Volunteers will attach all of the tags to a map in Washington, D.C. in the fall.

Most of the names are blank.

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