Immigrant, exile, refugee, traveler, stranger: these are the figures that define our time. They are alternately the fantasy and the nightmare of globalization—neoliberalism dreams of a “flat earth,” a world system where laboring bodies travel across borders as easily as capital, while populism fears those same bodies as dangerous, even deadly, parasitical drains on local economies and civil society. What these seemingly opposing narratives share is a determination to erase historical and material realities that motivate such mobility: the wars, economic crises, imperialisms and colonialisms, the violences and disparities that make displacement necessary and impossible, full of friction, driven by a basic instinct for survival.
A two-artist show at Talwar Gallery takes on the problem of the peripatetic body in relation to xenophobia, isolationism, and racism in the UK, but from two markedly different vantages. Allan deSouza’s Through the Black Country imagines Brexit via the form of the nineteenth-century traveler’s account, using a series of wall texts, maps, and images, while Alia Syed turns to video to convey the experience of a Sudanese refugee caught in the limbo of statelessness. The show opened on January 13 in New York—after the defeat of Hillary Clinton, which represented, among other things, a serious blow to open borders and free-trade zones like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but before Trump’s executive order banning travel from certain Muslim-majority countries and his aggressive interpretation of deportation rules, among other anti-immigrant measures. In the aftermath of these events, the show has become pointedly relevant.