"You are in the War Zone." 2016-17 By Sagi Cohen
'You Are in the War Zone' is far from being innocent. It is a trap, almost an insurgency tactic: it wields the in-betweenness of a conflict-ready, second person address, a pointed finger that oscillates ambivalently between showing and accusing. This ambivalence carries, nevertheless, a logic - cold, precise and consistent - which can be called a logic of super-imposition: more than mere juxtaposition, where 'Middle-East' meets 'Occident,' even more than an imposition, where the former's suffering and war impinges upon the latter's tranquil indifference. The hand-traced images from Aleppo, whose atrocities came to symbolize the global disaster of Syria's civil war, add an unmistakable measure of intimacy to Sakhaeifar's gesture, especially in its new photographic context that demands but a single click. Yet this visceral intimacy also complicates the gesture, since it takes on the responsibility of effacing the original Aleppo context in order to invite a "Western occupation" of a New York park. This is not the morally neutral "look, a war zone!" - affording its audience the convenient position of "viewers," free to pity or make donations at their leisure - but an infection, a breach, a taking-hostage.
The "war zone" imputed here is neither New York's, nor even Aleppo's, but the conditions of visibility that (un)fold between them; a conflictual mediation over the possibility of being seen, or counted. Comme à la guerre, Sakhaeifar stages this impossible scene so as to balance an otherwise asymmetrical distribution of power between the two locales. On the one hand, her vaguely-traced Aleppo images - depicting figures in the process of evacuating corpses from the scene - aids and abets the resilient ignorance of the New York kids. On the other hand, despite their happy-go-lucky air, the park photos have the life sucked out of them precisely by this superimposed evacuation of death: they might "occupy" the context that Sakhaeifar had cut out, but are thus infected by its hopelessness and death. This logic is known in global politics, but here it is made to speak.
This political artist does not mind morally compromising herself and her work, even her audience, if that will get her ethical point across. Sakhaeifar super-imposition forces her audience to occupy this impossible 'war zone', where a morally-justified Western presence - itself ignorant or innocent - is greeted, made room for, by the absenting of dead Middle-Eastern children. Her act also breaches the moral framework of her own ability to speak - the easily-digestible position of the well-mannered immigrant who 'inspires' Western guilt - but goes further to inject this guilt, making the encounter irreversible, its impositions - excessive. This work is as dirty as it is personal, pushing-back against the all-too-familiar media(tion) logic whose basic assumption is that ignorance means innocence or that indifference guarantees justice. Sakhaeifar has no patience for such luxuries of moral hygiene - and it shows.
Sagi Cohen, an Israeli-born Arab-Jew, is a PhD candidate at the political studies department in University of Ottawa.