Traces and Masks of Refugees

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People flee from war, persecution, and poverty and search for a way to reach an unfamiliar land to start a new life there. What human stories are behind the media reports about these escapes? This art exhibition intends to bypass the widely-circulated (refugee) statistics and facts, to bypass the media-related furor and political debates, and instead to use individual artworks to tell personal stories.

For as long as it has existed as a Central European nation, Austria has repeatedly been a destination for refugees. These refugees were taken in as persecuted persons and fended off as “aliens.” The iconographies of flight changed depending on the point of view. The spatial, quantitative, and cultural “overstepping of limits” was documented in shocking or scandalizing pictures. But it also aroused artistic sensibilities and can be seen in a positive light as an assault on obdurate image conventions, in that refugees also created new kinds of pictures here.

The flight often becomes an odyssey, and it does not end until long after the arrival. For the journey, identities must be concealed and switched, and the governmental “asylum procedure” is another masquerade. These aspects of a person, his or her masks, and the mental bridges between “here” and what was left behind “there” become an artistic theme: memories, phantasms, documents, fragments. It is not about the staging of refugees as individuals, but rather about individual artistic perspectives of the twentieth century and of the present.

The exhibition will present works by artists living in Austria, such as paintings by Adel Dauood and photographs by Linda Zahra, people who work through their own experience of their flight in very different ways or reject it as a label of identification. Works by artists living in Austria such as Deborah Sengl’s overpainting of photographs examine how flight and migration is dealt with, with prejudices as well as social and personal challenges.

Curators: Günther Oberhollenzer and Georg Traska

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