Ilana Salama Ortar
Foreseer of the Past
By Hagai Segev, Curator
Encapsulation exhibition depicts multidisciplinary modes of art addressing forced displacement and migration, uprootedness, refugeeness, and foreignness in zones of conflict. Salama Ortar’s art is underlined by a political inclination for the unspoken and the invisible aspects of erased memories from the point of view of a woman and a mother.
The Artivist Lab project is dedicated to two stories presented in video art works, in blown glass capsules and in works on paper.
The video art works: the first, Foreign Body: The women of Belsunce (exhibited recently at Manifesta 2020), documents the life stories of North African elderly women from Algeria, who were forced to emigrate from their homeland due to the civil war (1954 to 1962), and go into exile in France. The second: Hundred Years of Violence, is based on the project Revisiting Villa Khury / The Prophets’ Tower, Haifa, 1995-2019. This is the story of a destroyed Palestinian Villa (1948) and its substitution by the modernist Prophets’ Tower commercial centre.
Blown glass capsules containing objects of memory fill the two spaces of the gallery. Maintanence, documentation, preservation and the safeguarding of memory in blown glass capsules are essential forms of action and political activism in Ilana Salama Ortar’s art.
The first work that welcomes the visitor is an oversized blown glass capsule that holds the artist’s Egyptian birth certificate in Arabic. At the top is a painted totem with a blind eye and a target board. The artist calls it: “My self portrait”. At the background of the capsule works on paper with Hebrew calligraphy of the word “Shibboleth“, a word that signifies in Hebrew affiliation or rejection according to ethnic identity.
Born in Alexandria in the early 1950s, Salama Ortar and her family were forced to leave Egypt with a one-way pass (laissez-passer). En-route to Israel. They passed through a transit camp in Marseilles known as the Camp of the Jews – a scar anchored in her memory – which enhanced her sensitivity to the Israeli-Palestinian geo-political conflict and to the rejected status of aged migrant Algerian women in Marseille. These two conflicts are highlighted in the current art project.
Throughout her long carrier, Salama Ortar’s art deals with memory of the unspoken and concealed, the invisible effect of personal traumas. She confronts those memories, personal and universal, by making art which prompt a renewed dialogue with the past with a projection to the future.
The exhibition Encapsulation grants recognition to the emotions and stories that are frequently repressed. Salama Ortar presents a historic perspective she defines as ‘Foreseer of the Past’. Shecreates art works from special memorabilia of personal significance that she inserts and preserves in blown glass capsules. The capsules softly and rigidly enclose the human tangible objects and un-tangible memories stored in them. The glass capsules shield the burnt soil of the migrant camp of Marseille, in which the artist herself resided following her family’s exile from Egypt. The soil of the camp and the items of her family archives are cherished within the capsule – thus preserving and savouring a hidden cache, an everlasting memory of the trauma.
The encapsulated memories gave birth to Salama Ortar’s search for other vanished narratives and their protagonists. In her video work she documents the personal memories and those of fellow Algerian women now living in Marseilles – the stories these women had no opportunity to tell beforehand. These are stories about leaving families behind, motherhood in a new environment, the challenges of creating a new life in a new country and culture – all that is entailed by urootedness, refugeeness, foreignness – sources of personal trauma. This video is about women power – creating families and holding a tradition together, against all odds. A Lifetime of untold stories are shared for the first time during a long-term workshop Salama Ortar conducted in Marseilles. While sitting around a table and talking, drawing, eating, writing, singing; the displaced women are sharing stories that have never been told before. Confronting this experience gives place for our own untold tales, too.
The exhibition takes place at the Artivist Lab, Kampus Hybernska, Prague and can be visited online at https://www.artivistlab.info/encapsulation/.
You are welcome to join the exhibition interactive online project: Please drop into the capsules an answer, either in words or image, to the question:
Do you know a word, in your native language, that expresses belonging or rejection based on ethnic identity or gender?