The best border is no border

Resilience is the title of Abdul Rahman Katanani’s latest exhibition at the Galerie Analix in Geneva. The opening took place during the 15th Film Festival and International Forum on Human Rights (where I bumped into Isabelle Gattiker, the director of the FIFDH).

Abdul Rahman Katanani is a Palestinian artist, who grew up in the Sabra refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. His works of art are made using barbed wire that he carves himself.
I met with him one morning at the Analix gallery, for a coffee with the curator of the exhibition: Chiara Bertini. As I sat down, I read on the wall: “the best border is no border”. A flood of emotions overwhelmed me.

Why did you write it, what does it mean to you?
It’s better to live without internal borders. It is a challenge to discover yourself, to find the solution to overcome each difficulty encountered, because the only real problem is to stop trying. Our first borders are laid by our parents. They wish us, like the ambitions they harbor for us, that we succeed in this or that way. But the child must make his own experiences, feel the pain himself, of course without hurting himself too much …

How do you manage to shape these wires?
Working with metal, barbed wire, is a kind of meditation. I seek harmony, do not find it, I hurt myself, I prick myself. I must concentrate all my energy to find how to sculpt this material, not to let it limit me, to mold it according to my desire, in my way.

Why wires?
I started by asking myself how to eliminate the barriers, the suffering of the camp by the only force of the imagination. The children gave me the answer through their games, the barriers are erased from their minds even in the midst of misery. Watching them and having fun with them, I brought the jump ropes closer to a border image. This rope, each time you pass over it, it symbolizes the crossing of a border. Children’s imagination is much stronger than ours. Adults we become like trees on which there would be only wood, there are no more flowers or leaves, because our barriers limit us.

Why trees?
In Palestine olive trees are thousands of years old. Legacies passed down from generation to generation, when they are razed to build colonies, our roots are torn off. It is a tree of peace, it exudes sweetness, but it also manages to grow in occupied territories, as a symbol of resistance. Twenty years ago, I was trapped in a camp, I participated in demonstrations, limited to this one instilled vision: there is no life outside the camps. Then I became aware of the corruption present, developed a critical mind and wanted to see for myself this “outside”.
In my artistic research, I started with caricatures. Through them, I realized that the camps resemble cemeteries, filled with living people awaiting their death.

In 2012, I had the chance to do a three-month residency at the Cité des arts in Paris. I developed a broader world view there. By visiting Parisian museums, I realized that I could create “bigger”, take up space and interact / transmit ideas to a large audience. Today with technologies, social networks, we are directly connected to the world, without borders I can provoke reactions on an international level and instantly.

What do you say through your work?
Do what you love, without being afraid. Even if it doesn’t work, you will still be a winner because you will have tried. Go on, don’t give up and you will find it.

Photography © theNMH

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