Part of the
exhibition

In the Presence of Absence proposals for the museum collection

5 Sep 2020 until 31 Jan 2021

Artist page — 2 Sep 2020

In the Presence of Absence, the bi-annual show of proposals for the museum collection, presents 23 artists (collectives). This artist page includes a text on the work and an artist contribution.

This series of works by Sadik Kwaish Alfraji is part of an ongoing project, in which he traces a story of the displacement of himself and his family. In this project, the artist explores and weaves together personal narratives, interlaced by a collective sense of solidarity with anyone who has experienced exodus. 

The River That Was in the South and Sing like the Southerners Do (both 2019–2020) depict the first chapter of a migratory journey, with Alfraji’s grandfather’s family having to leave their home near the Erfaya’a river in the Mesopotamian Marshes to flee the oppression of a feudal system and seek a decent life. The second chapter illustrates further repeated displacements of his father’s generation inside Iraq and the margins of Baghdad. Later, due to Saddam Hussein’s autocracy, the artist had to emigrate to the Netherlands, where begins the third chapter, which he refers to as “At the Edge of Amsterdam City.” The River Books (2019–2020) unveil personal notes that dialectically bind together the three chapters of the journey. 

Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Sadik Alfraji’s “The River That Was in the South,” “Sing like the Southerners Do” and “The River Books,” all 2019-2020.
Illustration by Haitham Haddad after Sadik Alfraji’s “The River That Was in the South,” “Sing like the Southerners Do” and “The River Books,” all 2019-2020.

The story is told through animation, graphic diaries, and a sound-drawing installation. The installation, titled Sing like the Southerners Do, is accompanied by traditional Southern Iraqi mawāwīl (an Arabic music genre), sung by Salman Al-Mankoub, about life, farewell, ruins, love, death, and dreams; the drawings also include Alfraji’s handwritten transcription of some of the lyrics. The notebooks contain a semi-imaginary dialogue in which the artist converses with his own thoughts as well as the two older family generations on histories, part of which he hasn’t experienced firsthand. In this manner, Alfraji poetically narrates a multilayered story while placing together contradicting notions of melancholy, deprivation, and loss mingled with emotions of nostalgia, hope, and desire. As a group, the works deal with what’s beyond the surface image of migration and question the inevitable cross-cultural influences on cultural identity and intergenerational memory. 

Sadik Kwaish Alfraji (b. 1960) studied at the Institute of Fine Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad, and at the School of the Arts Constantijn Huygens in Kampen. His work has been exhibited at, among others, MoMA PS1 in New York, the 56th and 57th Venice Biennale in 2015 and 2017, and the 21st Contemporary Art Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil in 2019. Alfraji’s practice engages video, animation, and sound as well as drawings, paintings, and sculptures. In his oeuvre, themes such as memory, narration, and nostalgia play a role, in which the personal and the political overlap, as do history and current affairs.

Sadik Alfraji, “Sing like the Southerners Do,” 2019, sound-drawing installation. Courtesy the artist.
Sadik Alfraji, “Sing like the Southerners Do,” 2019, sound-drawing installation. Courtesy the artist.
Sadik Alfraji, “The River That Was in the South,” 2019, still image of animation film, 5:05 min., black and white, sound. Courtesy the artist.
Sadik Alfraji, “The River That Was in the South,” 2019, still image of animation film, 5:05 min., black and white, sound. Courtesy the artist.

Artist contribution

Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 1,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 101 pages, ink on notebook, 28.3 x 41 cm. Courtesy the artist.
Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 1,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 101 pages, ink on notebook, 28.3 x 41 cm. Courtesy the artist.

“I am your grandson, far from your reed house. After years of death and isolation, my grandfather, I hear the whine of your soul and I hear your voice exhausted by fatigue, see your dream of a land you own, and a crop to be harvested for your children, and a day without fear...”

Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 2,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 72 pages, ink on notebook, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy the artist.
Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 2,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 72 pages, ink on notebook, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy the artist.

“No voice but the voice of departure.”

Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 2,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 72 pages, ink on notebook, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy the artist.
Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 2,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 72 pages, ink on notebook, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy the artist.

“Get on a plane or boat... Donkey, horse or mule... Camel, cow, bull or even a goat... Ride a cart pulled by an animal or a vehicle that runs on fuel... Ride whatever you want and leave your land... You will see that this departure is the face of the escape you seek Salvation, and the air with no smell of the humiliation of living, and there is no smell of fear, and there is no smell of anxiety...

But you will see that departure gives birth to another departure, and that escaping leads to another escape, and that migration opens the door to other migrations, just as the generation gives birth to another generation.”
Amersfoort, 24-9-2018

Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 1,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 101 pages, ink on notebook, 28.3 x 41 cm. Courtesy the artist.
Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 1,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 101 pages, ink on notebook, 28.3 x 41 cm. Courtesy the artist.

“Water birds sing for your soreness.”

Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 3,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 71 pages, ink on notebook, 18.5 x 20 cm. Courtesy the artist.
Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 3,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 71 pages, ink on notebook, 18.5 x 20 cm. Courtesy the artist.

“Between Al Thawra City and the Dutch city Amersfoort, there are countless dreams, nightmares, spinning around the illusion, around the disappointments and fears... Between them there’s an abundance of love and generations born from the womb of generations where a new departure is born from that departure extending beyond Erfaya’a and Al Wadiyah.”

Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 3,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 71 pages, ink on notebook, 18.5 x 20 cm. Courtesy the artist.
Sadik Alfraji, “Riverʼs Book 3,” 2018. Artist’s book drawing, 71 pages, ink on notebook, 18.5 x 20 cm. Courtesy the artist.

“Amarah (Erfaya’a River – Al Wadiyah – Al Majar Alkabeer) >>> Basra (Shatt Al Turk – Al Maqal) >>> Baghdad (Al Shakriyah – Al Thawra City) >>> The Netherlands: (Hoogeveen – Amersfoort)”