In recent years war victims and refugees have once again become the focus of the contemporary art world. From the photo of the acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei in Lesvos to the anonymous yet viral urban art pieces in Egypt, Syria, and Greece, war victims and refugees are represented through numerous and diverse artistic languages, including installations, performances, photography, murals, street art, graffiti, participatory art and community-based art. The aspirations of these artists vary as well. Many aspire to simply express themselves on the concurrent refugee issue though their artworks, others attempt to raise awareness and others seek to create dialogue and explore the dynamic relationship between art, society and public space in order to effect social change. These art practices keep, however, raising questions regarding issues of political engagement, “ethics” of documentation, visual representation and reenactment. How is the “crisis” documented by the visual artists, and how are the Syrians, the war victims, the refugees represented in these artworks? Are they depicted as victims or heroes, guests or citizens, human beings or objects? What images and profiles do these artworks generate? What are the “ethics” in representing shock, pain and suffering of the others? Who is the “other” and which of these works have the capacity to create political space for the “other”?
The films of Abbou Naddara gave to me the impression that they strive to give answers to the above multifaceted and complicated questions. Most important they persuaded me that the creative subjects behind the scenes are well aware of these questions and highly considerate of the “tricky” dynamics between art and politics generated in times of crisis and distress. In this sense the work of the Abbou Naddara might not be of enough strength to provoke action and direct enough to engage a larger audience and to empower individuals to seek social change and justice, yet it is utterly subversive because it challenges the infrastructure of the spectacle in the most neoteric way. It breaks down the linearity of the narration as well as the main components of the image-making procedure and distribution. In most of the Abbou Naddara films the “director” might be the “protagonist” and the “protagonist” might as well be the “director”. The originality of the footages/images and mostly the originality of the reactions of those filmed indicates that there is a strong connection between the participants in the image making procedure. Besides this, the Abbou Naddara images abstain from dominating the eye of the viewers. They give space to the viewer to interpret, assess, react and feel. Although the image is raw and surely has some of the tactility of photojournalism, it is therefore not totalitarian.
The kind of agency that the Abbou Naddara present to us regarding the artistic practise and its connection to the political, reminds me of my favourite lyrics of the punk-rock band Bad Religion, who sing (quoting Lord Byron’s Don Juan poem) “Sometimes Truth is Stranger then Fiction”, simply because they let truth breath!