Originally slated to close in early December, Ron Amir’s exhibition “Somewhere in the desert,” now on display Paris’ Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, has been extended through January 6.
Co-curated by Noam Gal, a professor of art history at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, and Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, the museum’s photo curator, the exhibit brings together thirty large-format photographs and six videos taken between 2014 and 2016 at the Holot Facility, a detention center for African asylum seekers erected by the Israeli government in the Negev Desert.
Fleeing from oppression in their native countries, the refugees, detained in Holot for periods stretching from three months to a year, were not able to live or work legally in Israel. While technically allowed to come and go freely during the day, they were required to check in and out with guards and to adhere to a strict evening curfew. Among those who chose to go out during the day, some would spend their time wandering the Negev Desert plains, building temporary and highly inventive structures, which were then photographed by Amir in images that blur the boundaries between documentary photography and contemporary art.
Although no people are visible in these photographs, their presence remains palpable. With the meager resources found in the surrounding desert – twigs, rocks, empty crates, worn rugs or blankets and other banal objects – , they created a semblance of “normal life”: makeshift places to sit, pray, cook, eat or exercise, creating a “room” with stones arranged on the sand, logs, rocks, boards or cans. Poignant and moving, these vulnerable, ephemeral constructs evoke the precariousness of their lives.
As Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais writes, “We have reached a pivotal moment in the history of photography, with photographers concerned by their times but in a new way: no more resorting to shock photos of shock (to paraphrase a famous slogan of the magazine Paris Match), because violence, now commonplace, is no longer the best way to get a message across. With the huge volume of real and fake images flooding the Internet, a new way of taking pictures is emerging. It commands our attention by stepping back from its subjects, prompting introspection and calling things into question… Action is what distinguishes this artist, (whose) personal involvement goes beyond the scope of the average photojournalist’s work and is closer to the activities of humanitarian organization volunteers…”
Born in 1973, Amir, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, has often worked with people on the margins of society. He originally showed the series “Doing Time in Holot” at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in early 2017, when thousands of migrants from Eritrea and Sudan were held there. In March 2018, the Holot detention center closed, and the future of the asylum seekers remains uncertain.