Hard-hitting films at Documenta 14

Documenta, arguably one of the most important art shows in Europe, debuted in Athens earlier this month, with a second venue opening in Kassel, Germany in June.

Since its first launch in Kassel (a city mostly destroyed by Allied bombs during World War II) in 1955, Documenta has aimed to serve as a platform for the most influential, and often politically outspoken art of the time. 2017 is the first year in which Documenta is dividing its exhibitions between two cities — the selection of Athens for the expanded festival is an understandable choice, considering this year’s political undertones of migration, and increased divisions within the European Union.  

Coming from a filmmaking perspective, I thought I would take the opportunity to highlight a few of the many compelling video projects featured at Documenta 14.

From one of Hiwa K’s earlier works, This Lemon Tastes of Apple

Born in Iraqi Kurdistan, artist Hiwa K has an especially intimate understanding of the emotional challenges people face when forced to leave their homes. His film, Pre-Image (Blind as the Mother Tongue), documents his own journey in 1996 when he was forced from Iraq and made his way to Europe via Turkey and Greece. Although Hiwa K has lived in Berlin for over a decade now, his story mirrors the migration crises so many are facing today, which makes it a timely film for this festival.

Still from Naeem Mohaiemen’s Tripoli Cancelled

Another potent film coming out of Documenta this year is Naeem Mohaiemen’s project Tripoli Cancelled. The film plays on the feeling of entrapment experienced by migrants and refugees stuck in a seemingly eternal limbo in Greece. Set on a plane sitting on a runway in Athens, the pilot and flight crew go through all the regular pre-flight motions, but the plane never takes off. This project falls in line with much of Mohaiemen’s previous works which tends to focus on flight and travel security, especially when it comes to the often overly-paranoid perceptions of Muslims in the West.

Still from Artur Zmijewski’s Glimpse

A final film I would like to highlight is Artur Zmijewski’s experimental documentary Glimpse. The 20 minute silent piece approaches the refugee crisis in an arguably more intimate manner, with subjects staring straight at the camera and Zmijewski himself appearing to paint white x’s on the refugees’ backs. The imagery is more curated than your typical cinema verité, but this artistic approach, possibly because of it’s unsettling nature, encourages an emotional reaction from the viewer.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to impactful projects worth checking out during this year’s event. Documenta 14 will present works from artists across the globe, both well established and emerging. Through films, sculpture, music and live performances, the refugee crisis and it’s affects will be a continuing theme amongst a majority of the exhibitions. It is further tangible proof that the staggering figures of migrant and refugees – 65.3 million people are currently displaced worldwide – are not being ignored by the artistic community, and many are turning to their craft to demand answers and solutions.


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