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A Voice for Eritreans.

Unit Title: Visual Exploration 

Unit Code: VPF409

Level: 4 

Assessment Title: Illustrated Exhibition Review

Assessment Number: AE1

Assessment Type: Exhibition Review

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‘A section of the assessed review layout.’  


 

A Voice for Eritreans

‘Even This Will Pass’ by Aida Silvestri.

Roman Road, London.

11th March to 26th April 2014.

Exhibition Review by Danielle Pugh 


Aida Silvestri, embarks on a thin-skinned photographic voyage exploring the journey made by African refugees from Eritrea to Europe in a desperate attempt for stability and equality within the promise land. The show is exhibited from 11/3/14 – 26/04/14 at the Roman Road Project Space in London, Bethnal Green.

It’s well known yet often overlooked that the Horn of Africa struggles from economic and political crisis. While ruled by a dictatorial government the population of Eritrea are without freedom of speech as well as being under a political regime known as the ‘North Korea of Africa’. These circumstances result in violent conflict over the pursuit of power. As well as drought, famine and many other demoralising aspects, this has resulted in high numbers of African refugees fleeing their countries in hope for a better life elsewhere.

Silvestri’s series at Roman Road documents the overlooked, tragic and shocking stories of the journeys refugees embark on from Eritrea. The elements of the show create a tense and overwhelming atmosphere of shock and severe empathy.

The initial intention of the show is to raise awareness of the horrific consequences refugees face when pursuing to escaping from their past lives in Africa. Many of them regretfully end up at prison camps, in the hands of human traffickers, being tortured, abused, or even departing from life altogether. What some of us fail to see is that it is ultimately unfair that whilst we have no control over where we are born, depending on where that may be some of us are restricted to whether we can leave in order to enhance our lives, therefore in severe cases are force to face life threatening sacrifices in order to do so.

The title of the show ‘Even This Will Pass’ comes from a message written upon a wall in Mount Sinai, the message encourages Eritreans to stay persistent and keep hope as they pass through Egypt whilst making their way to the United Kingdom, known as the promise land.

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Eritrea to London on foot, by car, lorry, boat and train. From the series Even This Will Pass by Aida Silvestri

The conceptual approach to the topic displays 10 anonymous portraits of surviving refugees. Each portrait is blurred in order to protect the dignity of the subject. Accompanying each portrait is a short piece of text which poetically yet brutally expresses an insight to the voice of the sitter, what they saw, faced and overcome throughout their journey. Silvestri explains to the British Journal of Photography that the sitters were frightened and anxious when talking about their experiences, of course this is comprehensible knowing what harrowing mental and physical torture they have been through. The seriousness of the text, the harsh reality of the words personified through a portrait, which appears blurred, isolated and sensitive enhances a tremble of phonetics within your imagination of the sitter’s voice. The intimate atmosphere of the compact gallery space becomes much darker as you close in on the faceless stranger and tread carefully upon their personal scars. The expression of emotion within the text of each individual’s story is truly haunting. The combination of the portrait and text allows the viewer to discover more about the sitter, which enhances feelings of disturbance and guilt. The blurred face remains anonymous and ambiguous causing the viewer concerns of the potential extension of suffering from what we understand as a result of the exhibition at Roman Road.

In addition to the portrait and literature there is also a hand stitched thread upon the surface of the portrait which tracks out the route taken by the certain individual, the colour of the thread matches up on the map located within the gallery. This route indicates to the viewer the path in which the refugee took, this element is certainly eye opening as it puts the distance and complexity of the journey they take into perspective, it also undoubtedly amplifies the obvious struggle from which we are already aware of.

The anonymous blurred portraits work particularly well in a sense that they leave the body language and facial expression interpretations as an enigma and instead represent the struggling reality to raise awareness of the under covered stories of our era. Unlike Fazal Sheikh’s refugee women from Somalia portraits where every element of their facial expression tells a story, for the purpose of the show Silvestri’s work is much more delicate and emotive as her sitters remain unseen. The visual distortion could be seen as a metaphoric interpretation of a blind journey, perhaps this could remind the viewer that those travelling refugees are under immense pressure travelling illegally, day and night in places they have never been to before, in countries they are unfamiliar with and unwelcome in and the hidden sacrifices they have to make in able to continue with their peregrination.

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From the series ‘Sleepers’ by Yto Barrada, 2006.

Similarly, Yto Barrada’s series ‘Sleepers’ deals with related concepts by documenting Moroccan migrants before embarking on their illegal journey across the Strait of Gibraltar from Africa to Europe. Compared to Silvestri the approach is similar, Barrada photographs shows anonymous migrants who have burnt their passports. These people are known as the ‘burnt ones’, Barrada depicts the individuals sleeping in parks with their faces covered in the hope to remain unnoticed and avoid confrontation with the authorities. Although her work is intriguing and visually bizarre I find that Silvestri tackles the importance of the topic in a much more emotively powerful way as she elaborates on the shocking reality of the journey in which they embark on. The curatorial decisions of the show also extend this notion. The confined gallery space enables the viewer to feel on a much more personal level with the work enabling them to feel much closer and personal with the individuals represented, allowing them to intrude on the suffering of the souls who have struggled to make it to the UK on their illegal and perilous journey.

The location of the show attracts more fortunate visual elitists and the layout has the ability move the viewer by its passionately emotive and respectful tribute to the refugees of Eritrea.

Silvestri intention to give a voice to those who are commonly unheard has certainly been granted and with full optimism the show can continue to raise awareness of human trafficking and other relentless excruciating situations refugees are confronted with while simply trying to enhance their lives.


Bibliography

Books –

Maxted, J, and Abebe, Z, 2001. Human Stability and Conflict in the Horn of Africa. Volume 10, Issue 4, 2001. South Africa. p45-57

Bariagaber, A., 2006. Conflict and the refugee experience: flight, exile, and repatriation in the Horn of Africa. Aldershot: Ashgate.

p. Preface, ix. Part I, 1 p2 and 2 p21, Part II, 3 p41.

Journals –

Padley, G, 2013, Aida Silvestri’s Even This Will Pass. British Journal of Photography. [online] Available from:

http://www.bjp-online.com/2013/07/aida-silvestris-even-this-will-pass/

Padley, G, 2014, Aida Silvestri puts on solo show. British Journal of Photography. [online] Available from:

http://www.bjp-online.com/2014/03/aida-silvestri-solo-show/

Article –

Hagen, C, 1996. Photography Review: Reading the Sorrow of Africa in Individual Faces. The New York Times. MLA 7th Edition. [viewed 19 April 2014]. Available from:

http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?action=interpret&id=GALE|A150555522&v=2.1&u=southampton&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&authCount=2

Websites –

Ballani, M., 2014, Roman Road, Aida Silvestri, Even This Will Pass, Press Release. [online] [viewed 17 March 2014]. Available from:

http://www.romanroad.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/PR_ASRRLSHOW14.pdf

UNHCR Global Appeal, 2014. East and Horn of Africa UNHCR Regional operations profile. [online] [viewed 20 April 2014] Available from:

http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e45a846.html 

UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency, 2014. Regional Overview. [online] [viewed 20 April 2014] Available from:

http://data.unhcr.org/horn-of-africa/regional.php 

BBC News, Africa, 2011. Horn of Africa drought: Kenya row over Somali refugees. [online] [viewed 20 April 2014] Available from:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-14144893

Scottish Refugee Council, Real Lives. [online] [viewed 20 April 2014] Available from:

http://www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk/about/refugee_stories

Art Fund, Photographs from the series ‘Sleepers’ by Yto Barrada, 2009. [online] [viewed 20 April 2014] Available from:

http://www.artfund.org/what-we-do/art-weve-helped-buy/artwork/10550/%5Bobject%20Object%5D

 A Camel for the Son, Fazal Sheikh, Description. [online] [viewed 10 April 2014] Available from:

http://www.fazalsheikh.org/projects/a_camel_for_the_son/description.php

Autograph ABP, Exhibitions, Aida Silvestri, Even This Will Pass, 2014. [online] [viewed 21 April 2014] Available from:

http://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/even-this-will-pass

Sherwin, S., 2011. Artist of the week 169: Yto Barrada. [online] [viewed 20 April 2014] Available from:

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/dec/22/artist-week-yto-barrada

Review Structures.

Throughout this post I will explore elements of exhibition reviews from Source magazines in order to influence my own final review for this unit.

 

Source, The Photographic Review, Autumn 2013, Issue 76, p54-55. 

Ever Young, James Barnor, Impressions Gallery.

The Time of Optimism.

Review by Mick Gidley. 

James Barnor, Eva, 1960

James BarnorEva, 1960

 

Analysis: 

Mick Gidley’s review of the Ever Young exhibition by James Barnor consists of descriptive paragraphs about the exhibition and it’s content. Throughout the introduction Gidley gives us an insight to exactly who he is talking about, a short biography of the photographer and what they’re all about. For the duration of the review we read heavy descriptions about the work being shown and the exhibition, what it consists of, what it represents and what it’s intentions are. The review seems to be mainly descriptive about what to expect in the exhibition, a descriptive insight which tells you about the contextual side of the show. Unfortunately the review for me doesn’t do the show or images justice, after researching more about Barnor and finding more images online I was excited by what I saw, for me the description even though elaborate for a short review does not come across as anything other than unfortunately quite dull.

More information at: http://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/james-barnor-ever-young

 

Source, The Photographic Review, Spring 2013, Issue 74, p50-51.

Woo!, Juergen Teller, ICA.

Serious Photography.

Review by Eugenie Shinkle.

Juergen Teller

 Juergen Teller, Vivienne Westwood, No.1, London, 2009. 

 

Analysis: 

Personally I find this review to be much more experimental and imaginative with the use of words compared to Gidley’s review of Ever Young. The review starts with a controversial statement about how ‘serious photographers don’t do fashion’ and by listing other photographs works who we are familiar with helps to give a better understanding of what to expect within the exhibition. After this, much like Gidley there is a short biographical paragraph about Juergen Teller and his past work which gives you an understanding of his background and why this show is not what you’ll expect. Onwards the review again is very descriptive about the exhibition, more specifically this time with an explanation of what is exactly in each room without giving away too much, just enough to make you want to go and see for yourself. Towards the end of the review Shinkle talks about the main controversial element of the exhibition being the nude photographs of Vivienne Westwood, including this keeps the reader interested as it’s a popular part of the show. The end summary explains critical concerns but in a tasteful and respectful way. The controversy creates debate around the review and exhibition. I find this review to be much more to my taste as the vocabulary is rich and vibrant, every adjective seems to be invigorating and makes for a much more interesting read.

More information at: http://www.ica.org.uk/whats-on/juergen-teller-woo

 

Source, The Photographic Review, Autumn 2013, Issue 76, p60-61. 

Man Ray Portraits, National Portrait Gallery.

With Mystery.

Review by Isabel Stevens. 

Catherine

Man Ray, Catherine Deneuve, 1968. 

Reviewing a show by a well known famous pioneer has a different output compared to contemporary, it is unnecessary to be descriptive of the photographs because generally people who read the review will already be aware of what they will look like. The intro still consists of a slight biographical piece of information but the structure is different, it does not list facts but alternatively elaborates on well known information in an attempt to try and write something which has never been said before. Throughout the duration of the review there is clear evidence of historical research and facts which you may or may not be aware of, these facts are extended with interpretations and opinions of what the photographs may have meant at the time and how they are perceived today. What I found to be interesting in the review was the explanation of Man Ray’s photographic practice which is included in the show, that fact alone made me want to visit the show for myself, as it sparks intrigue of the reality, secrets and mystery’s of working process of the surrealist photographer.

Look to The Suburbs.

Source Magazine, Issue 75, Summer 2013.

pg, 71-74 Look to The Suburbs, Garry Winogrand, Yale University Press.

Book Review by Mark Durden

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6/1/14 – Danielle Pugh

During the first session of our visual exploration unit as a group we generated a series of questions in order to interrogate a review and begin to understand the purpose and intentions of the writing.

1) What is the intention of the review?

The intention of the review is not in fact to sell or promote the book. Durden is informative about the content of the book with plenty of quotations and references to other people’s opinions and interpretations. Towards the end of the review it becomes more opinionated as he interrogates and interprets, questions and other interpretations within the content of the book.

2) What was your interpretation of the content & photographic outputs through the review? Did the writing give a good understanding of the show or books in question?

The review is very informative about the photographic content, it informs the reader about the social and political eras and other elements which affected and influence the meaning behind the images outcomes.

3) What is the review critically focused on and what type of photography is being explored?

The type of photography being explored is street photography, depicting the social issues and attitudes during the 60’s within the portrayal of the American lifestyle. The review seems to inform us mainly about the biography of photographer Garry Winogrand but also interpretations on the narratives of his work affected by sociology and democracy.

4) Is the reviewer’s opinion the most important part of the review or is it the factual and descriptive elements of the review that are most important?

I think an honest, opinionated review is important if it’s from someone who is authentic, established and well respected. However this review is less about the opinions of the writer and more factual, informative and descriptive about the biography of the photographer and their work within the book. There are elements of opinion which justifies the authenticity of the writer as well as where it has been published. I think that the factual elements are probably most important though, as it will not influence your own opinion and enables you to give the book a chance yourself.

5) How was the review researched?

Throughout the review the main sources suggested was John Szarkowski as well as the book itself, the contributors, exhibitions, central essays for the book, discussions, biographical details and quotes.

6) Why have they written it in this way?

This provides an intellectual and informative source for someone to find out reliable information or opinions on the book before reading it, combining summary and synthesis provides us with an informative and well written response to the source we are looking up. I think that the reason they have strayed away from too much opinion is to avoid influencing your own opinion on the book, as it may be different to theirs.

7) What were their influences towards the work: That is how wide are the references used in the text?

The influence of the review seems to be from wide variety of legitimate sources including the writer himself. I think this makes for a good review as you can see that it’s not just one person’s opinions and that it’s factual and informative.

8) Does the intention of the work/book/exhibition come across?

The intention is clearly stated within the first paragraph by saying the book endorses Szarkowski’s judgement  as well as seeking to rectify the dearth of research and understanding the authors feel Winogrand’s work has met with in the decades since his death.

9) What was your interpretation of the book/exhibition from the review?

I preferred the review to be more factual as it leaves room for me to develop my own opinion and interpretation of the quotes and content from the book. If it was purely someone else’s opinion there is always a chance it may be different to my own and within interpretations of photographs there is never one right or wrong answer. However I always find it interesting to listen to what the photographer has to say, so since it seems to be more biography based I’d be inclined to read it.

10) Did you understand the issues covered/intended to come across from the review?

The review is well written and long enough to explain the intentions and issues relating to the book and it’s content. Although, not long enough and so is just a short source of information regarding the chosen literature.