Alia Farid Captures the Daily Life of Puerto Rico’s Palestinian Community 

At CAC Passerelle, Brest, the artist showcases an archive that maps Arab and South Asian migration to Latin America and the Caribbean

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BY Fernanda Brenner in Exhibition Reviews | 13 MAY 24

At the 2022 Whitney Biennial, I was struck by footage of three boys guiding a water buffalo through muddy terrain. In a single long shot, the animal glides through calm waters at the historically charged confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the sound of beautiful Arabic chanting. Watching Alia Farid’s film Chibayish (2022) in a gallery facing onto the Hudson River in New York gave me a heightened sense of the influence on her practice of her upbringing between Kuwait and Puerto Rico – both places deeply connected to water, albeit in very different ways. Yet, while the hurricane seasons of Puerto Rico contrast starkly with Kuwait’s desert landscape along the northern Persian Gulf, Kuwait also harbours historically vital freshwater marshlands – one of which lends its name to Farid’s film – near the country’s northern border with Iraq. 

Since the borderland was a focal point during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88) and the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein drained the marshes, displacing local communities and causing environmental devastation to the ancient wetland ecosystem. Re-encountering Farid’s film two years later in the city of Brest, home to France’s second largest military port, I found myself impressed anew by the artist’s unparalleled ability to speak to the migrant journey, and what it truly means to leave your homeland. 

Alia Farid
Alia Farid, ‘Elsewhere’, 2024, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Passerelle Centre for Contemporary Art, Brest

At CAC Passerelle, Chibayish is screened alongside the second iteration of Farid’s long-running project ‘Elsewhere’ (2013–ongoing), a growing material archive that maps the complex narratives of Arab and South Asian migration to Latin America and the Caribbean. The 16 large handwoven tapestries that fill the main gallery of Passerelle’s vast, former-industrial space are the first iteration of this project and draw on more than a decade of research. These pieces are the result of Farid working closely for two years with southern Iraqi weavers from Samawa, who played a pivotal role in condensing her extensive research into vibrantly coloured and richly detailed tapestries capturing daily life in Puerto Rico’s Palestinian community. From bustling streets with shopfronts and advertisements to cultural landmarks such as mosques to menus featuring Arabic cuisine, the tapestries offer a nuanced portrait of the intersections between heritage, migration and adaptation.

Alia Farid
Alia Farid, ‘Elsewhere’, 2024, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Passerelle Centre for Contemporary Art, Brest

By installing the works so that gallery-goers can wander among them, Farid seemingly encourages her audience to get lost in an unknown yet inviting city of textiles. The profusion of contrasting colours and messy overlapping details made me homesick for Brazil, but my mental trip was cut short when I saw the word ‘Palestina’ embroidered on a shop: would it have stood out to me so immediately, I wondered, before the bloody Israel–Gaza war we are currently witnessing? 

Farid’s rigorous research comes alive thanks to the weavers’ meticulous attention to detail, augmented by the poignant soundtrack that leaks into the gallery from the film screening in an adjacent space. These tapestries are more than visually arresting artworks: they serve as portals into worlds shaped by displacement, both voluntary and involuntary. 

Alia Farid
Alia Farid, ‘Elsewhere’, 2024, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Passerelle Centre for Contemporary Art, Brest

In a 2023 interview with The Art Newspaper, Farid noted: ‘I think it’s important for people to remember that we are not our governments, that these borders are not real, and to insist on community and connectivity.’ Through the considered pairing of textile and film, this exhibition pays testament to Farid’s career-long commitment to complicating geopolitical and temporal borders and her enduring efforts to dismantle the assumption that nature is simply a resource to be manipulated by humans without consequence. 

Alia Farid’s ‘Elsewhere’ is Passerelle Centre for Contemporary Art, Brest, until 18 May  

 

Alia Farid, Chibayish, 2022, film still. Courtesy: the artist 

Fernanda Brenner is the founder and Artistic Director of Pivô, an independent non-profit art space in São Paulo, and a contributing editor of frieze

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