BY Thea Djordjadze in Influences | 05 AUG 11
Featured in
Issue 2


In this series, frieze d/e asks artists, curators or writers to re?ect upon one word and its impact

BY Thea Djordjadze in Influences | 05 AUG 11

Collage made with archival photographs of Nansen passports, Montage: Thea Djordjadze

On 4 July 1922, Kazimir Malevich wrote to El Lissitzky that his desired payment for reproducing Black Square (1915) was ARA and for Black Circle (1913) Nansen. This sounded strange. I learnt that ARA stood for the American Relief Association, a humanitarian organization to help starving people in Russia, and that Nansen was a passport for citizens of the world. I imagined a kind of ID that artists might use to move freely around the world, across all borders, without the degrading and inhumane visa applications that we should have left behind us in the Middle Ages.

In fact, the Nansen passport was an identity document for stateless persons. Named after Fridtjof Nansen polar explorer, founding father of neurology, Norwegian representative in London and High Commissioner for the League of Nations. He was responsible for refugees after World War I, developed programmes against famine in Soviet Russia and looked after more than one million Russians who had been displaced by the Communist regime, many expatriated following a decree by Lenin. It was primarily for them that the passport was introduced in 1922.

With this document, they regained a legal status, reunited with their names and existences, allowing them to rent an apartment, for example, or travel to League of Nations member states. Nevertheless, Vladimir Nabokov complained that the passport was a very inferior document of a sickly green hue which made him feel little better than a criminal on parole.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Thea Djordjadze is an artist based in Berlin. Her next solo show begins 24 September at The Common Guild in Glasgow.