" 'Identity' is one of those false friends. We all think we know what the word means and go on trusting it, even when it is slyly starting to say the opposite... For it is often the way we look at other people that imprisons them within their own narrowest allegiances. And it is also the way we look at them that may set them free..."

Amin Maalouf
 



Balla-Drama takes the contested ground of identity as its subject. The title is a combination of the Arabic 'balla' (meaning 'without') with the English 'drama'.  

It has long been a dream of the Universalist ideologies that have dominated modern Western societies, to dissolve the ancient tribal, ethnic, linguistic and religious ties that for the vast sweep of history have been the defining elements of human identity.
 
For the Anarchist, Socialist and Communist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries all divisive categories would, like the State itself, wither away after the revolution. Similarly In the New World Order that sprung up briefly as a mirage in the minds of the victorious American ideologues after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. the global triumph of free markets and liberal democracy would liberate populations across the world from a state of prehistory into a progressive present of rational self-determinism... And yet, in our time, the power of those old, perennial sources of identity has returned.

Balla-Drama is set within this broad context and within the recent surge of interest in contemporary art from the wider Middle Eastern region. To an extent the show satirizes this trend by crudely drawing together a group of artists whose names 'sound' Middle Eastern or Muslim yet who were born, grew up and live and work in a highly disparate series of locations and whose work reflects and explicitly engages, both individually and collectively, with the complex diversity of their backgrounds.

Balla-Drama both laconically and acutely tackles with the chimera of identity, that, as always, is a concrete presence in the world; a stooge for the instrumental designs of power, a catalyst for conflict, a lodestone for meaning in human lives but that, on close inspection, seems as insubstantial as air.


Artists participating in the exhibition:

Farhad Ahrarnia; Lulwah Al-Homoud; Samta Benyahia; Shezad Dawood; Ala Ebtekar; Mounir Fatmi; Karim Ghelloussi; Aïcha Hamu; Hayv Kahraman; Timo Nasseri; Henna Nadeem; Ayman Yossri Daydban.

Curated by Nour Wali