1998-2011 / ١٩٩٨-٢٠١١

by Nadia Refaei

Friday 21 August – Saturday 12 September 2020
Moonah Arts Centre

1998-2011 / ١٩٩٨-٢٠١١ explores how family photographs act as vestiges of ‘homeland’ – and how they can be reworked and re-contextualised to express loss and longing for an unaltered place. Situated within the context of forced distance caused by the Syrian conflict, this work questions how, and to what extent, place and ‘homeland’ is mythologised by diasporic communities.

Artist’s Statement

I grew up in Saudi Arabia, spending most of my childhood surrounded by my Syrian family and many summer months in our village Tel, up in the mountains of Damascus, Syria. My sense of identity and culture is heavily intertwined with these memories and the places where those memories were formed. I collected photos from this period and each component in this exhibition has come from them – unmade and remade.

This work builds on One thousand photos of Syria before the war (2019) where I layered and weaved the same images together into crude paper. This process provoked consideration of how these memories and experiences have taken on new meaning since the beginning of the conflict, through dilution, evolution and distortion.

Paper making as an action holds many implications. Its outcome is dependent on factors tied with the place where it was made – temperature, humidity, water quality – and the hands which make it. In undoing my family’s photographs and remaking them into the papers displayed here, I was forming a bridge between past and present, between two countries.

There are two definitions of ‘displacement’ that I thought about when working on 1998-2011 / ١٩٩٨-٢٠١١. One is the removal of someone/something by someone/something else which takes their place. The other is used in psychoanalysis and refers to the unconscious transfer of an intense emotion from one object to another.

Using processes of destruction and reconstruction, family records are reinterpreted into new forms with new meanings. These actions allow me to move through feelings of reflection, healing and recognition.

List of works

installation, paper, linen thread

paper paste-ups

projected stills