Thuistezien 268 — 17.05.2021
For the solo exhibition ‘Foreign Agents’ at West in 2019, the South African, Berlin based artist Candice Breitz presented a seven-part video work called ‘Love Story’. This work constitutes six stories about people who have fled their home country. In addition to these six stories, two famous Hollywood stars interpret these stories, which confronts the mechanics of identification and the conditions under which empathy is produced. Evoking the global scale of the refugee crisis, the diverse and critical personal experiences of people that typically remain anonymous in the media are intertwined with faces that are the very embodiment of visibility.
Farah Abdi Mohamed describes the journey from Somalia to Europe of seeking asylum in a matter-of-fact way. Not only that, he begins to tell about this journey only half-way in. The first half of the video is about his childhood, a time filled with a strong will for care, but also independence from his parents, the community, and the extended family. He speaks on conflict on multiple levels: religious struggle, struggle between tribes (through which his father was killed), and generational struggle. While these things went on, within the family fantasies were or were not cherished, such as the fantasy of his mother for her children to seek education, where she was not allowed to.
When it comes to religion, Farah chooses his mother as his own God to follow. He stumbles over his words as he describes Somalian muslim dogmas, correcting himself when he describes them as an imperative, i.e ‘one should …’. It was hard to find religion something he could accept, since in his experience of questioning his faith and eagerness to discuss he was met with threat and disappointment. When instructed by his iman to go to the mountains by himself and read to seek truth, Farah says snickering ‘It had no results, I didn’t see any signs,’ and ‘How can I ask a guy who I don’t already feel, to make me feel, to see his signs?’. Later he mentioned how he was diagnosed with ADHD, which made him feel relieved and a lot of his stress and confusion started making sense.
A few things stand out about him. His light-footedness and humour regarding his revelations on faith, while the struggle with his own community is one he sees of equal suffering to his struggle coming to Europe, being deported back to Somalia, arrested multiple times and stripped of his belongings by gangs and smugglers. In one breath, he calls quantum physics as the proof to contradict the existence of a spiritual entity. Also, the followers of faith disprove to him the authenticity of it all: ‘They send you to look for the Good, but not to do it together.’ The atheism he found, partly through like minds on the internet, actually made it easier for him to accept the idea of dying at sea, since now he didn’t have to answer to the questions of whatever angel would take his soul to heaven or hell. Moreover, it becomes clear to himself through talking and reliving his story that he gets relief and relaxation whenever he is in company, taking care of others. In this way, he is still part of his (past) story, still picking up things he didn’t before.
Near the end Farah notes on his experience of integration filled with positivity, where starting over is not difficult for him in relation to what he went through. In the city (of Berlin) no one cares about how you look, or whether he’s been there for a long or short time. People will approach him if he is lost and ask if they can help. Where at first he was scared to do the interview with Breitz, fearful to be found out by his Somalian community (hence the disguise and assumed name), he sees it as a global mission to make archives and map out how these stories become part of someone’s identity and demonstrate human needs of safety, shelter, education and sympathy, rather than mere ‘pictures that don’t speak’. In a touching manner, he addresses Alec Baldwin with the confidence he would be able to make other people feel what he felt. Farah sees actors as people without which ‘there would be no real life’, because they send messages out to and construct our world every day. They can transfer the feeling of a businessman, actor, student and refugee alike, where each feels the same when the weather changes, the sun is shining, or when it’s cold. As an attribute for this process, Farah sends Baldwin the ziplock around his wrist that alludes to the days he was in jail and to others who still are.
This interview: Farah Abdi Mohamed; interviewed in Berlin on 18 October 2015; fled Somalia; seeking asylum in Berlin, Germany
Text: Yael Keijzer