Collective, City Observatory, 38 Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA

Sulaïman Majali: saracen go home


1 February — 29 March 2020

Review by Elaine Y.J Zheng

On stage is a single mic stand before a row of empty seats. A recording ushers us towards the sounds of the Middle East. But where are the actors? And what is this scene? Dispersed upon the stage are the scattered pieces of diasporic memory.

Sulaïman Majali’s new installation project, ‘saracen go home’, is part of the Satellite program at Collective that supports emerging artists in Scotland. Drawing on the site’s commitment to restoration, ‘saracen go home’ explores the consequences of diasporas on individuals and collective memory.

‘saracen go home’ refers to the graffiti sprayed on the walls of a mosque in Cumbernauld, Scotland in 2016 and alludes to the on-going persecutions faced by immigrants, dating all the way back to the age of Crusades.

The refugee is always a visitor, unwillingly inhabiting another’s space. His motion is constrained by barriers, which indicate what is permitted within their perimeters. To integrate beyond these boundaries, he must give up the foreign aspects that make him ‘other’.

This exhibition is set up to resemble a stage, where centuries of tradition are compressed into news pamphlets and objects compiled by Majali.

Majali’s stage is a space for recollection, where traditional practices are recovered, but only symbolically. Decontextualised, these practices are reduced to reminders to uphold tradition, and signal the presence of a hypothetical history.

The small rock in the far right corner of the gallery and lemon peel hidden in another are not as blatant as the Green Rub el Hizb Star, carved in an acrylic mirror, or the damaged peacock feather also on display. But without the viewer, each loses its meaning and is forgotten.

Like the 3D print of a 12th century Almohad era fragment, concealed within the outer walls of the gallery, these objects require conscious effort to be located and remembered. Unlike the latter, the fragment is a direct incorporation of Middle Eastern structures onto the gallery itself - a merging of two traditions.

By the seats, paper pamphlets depict a series of events that link the exhibition to its space. These display the on-going relationship between Scottish and Arabic cultures, with a strong emphasis on scientific discovery, juxtaposed by recent cases of anti-Islamic sentiment.

Amidst the stillness of the installation is an absence that is heard loudly. The viewer is left waiting for an act that never takes place. Displaced into foreign space, the resident of the diaspora walks on the stage of another, where they cannot act, only witness.

Majali’s accompanying audiotape is a compilation lasting 42.3 minutes exactly: an assemblage of fragments of fieldwork, radio, broadcast material and created sounds with a voice that lies just at the edge of audible hearing.

As the recording fades, so does the anticipation. In its place remains only a vague feeling that something is over. With the loss of place, the refugee becomes a shell of cultural identity, inheriting a vacancy marked by discontinued memory.

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