top of page

Man is Not Without A Homeland: Trauma and (Un)Belonging in Contemporary Middle Eastern Installation

Cagla Sokullu

Jun 15, 2021

Where Do We Belong?

Picture a living room behind taut wires, overlaid with cables, covered with kitchen appliances and lights all metal themselves. A decaying minaret holding together the miniature walls of Damascus, graffitied with words of prayer. Or imagine a roomful of television sets coupled with couches, playing the videos of an Other you never imagined to meet. The first impression may be one of curiosity, or perhaps of unease at the wires and the foreignness of the voices from the TV. Or perhaps it will be to look for a sign of belonging, something to overlay what and who we see here against somewhere in the world. Where do these scenes belong to, and who belongs in them? Are these places of belonging, or burdened by loss? Whether or not these tensions are outright spelled out to read, “Where do I belong?” is one of the essential questions that plague artists who live and work within diaspora (Rogoff 14). But where tension truly forms at the core of the issue is the concept of choice — is the movement voluntary, or forced? Is there a choice to leave, or only a ripping away from home? The tensions that appear in Mona Hatoum’s living room in Homebound, Mohamad Hafez’s decaying walls in Hiraeth, and Kutluğ Ataman’s TV sets in Küba distinguish themselves as born from a personal, inherent loss of home’s identity. In the hands of artists from a history of trauma and the midst of exile, “where do I belong?” is loaded with a historical, geographical undercurrent and identity which is so inherently familiar with the notion of forced exile and displacement.

In the past decade the global refugee population has more than doubled, and everywhere from Syria and Afghanistan in the Middle East to South Sudan and Somalia in Africa, to Bangladesh in South Asia, a nomadic, normative narrative is forced onto millions between borders whose lives are now defined by a refugee status. As this fragility of home and the difficulty of finding belonging come to the forefront of our sociopolitical global consciousness and carve new definitions of peoples, the themes of borders and borderlessness have also made themselves a new home in the contemporary world of art making. Here, I employ borderlessness to mean the state of flexibility, imbalance, and free movement between separate cultural, ethnic, and communal entities as one ceases to be part of a single bordered community or nation. This could encompass refugees (who are already provided protection in an unhomely land), asylum seekers (who move across borders in search of such protection), or anyone exiled and, as Joseph Brodsky puts it in his essay “The Condition We Call Exile,” in a “metaphysical condition… with a very clear metaphysical dimension” (Meerzon 23; Brodsky 24). It is valuable to note this concept of metaphysicality, for in this sense, exile becomes a phenomenon much grander than simply the physical movement and encompasses a great spectrum of human emotion as a reaction, including all sense of belonging and unbelonging. Thus, “the condition we call exile is due for a fuller explication; that, famous for its pain, it should also be known for its pain-dulling infiniteness, for its forgetfulness, detachment, indifference, for its terrifying human and inhuman vistas for which we have no yardstick except ourselves” (Brodsky 28).

Whether this home is gone, far away, long lost, or recently taken, a gaze towards home has been a grounding commonality between artworks dealing with diaspora and belonging, which will henceforth be loosely defined as “diaspora art.” Previous scholarship on diaspora art and belonging in exile has addressed this consideration of home and its common symbols or implications in depth through stories, histories, both interlinked and completely set apart in their own geographies and climates. When grappling with this case of the lost home and the lost narrative, previous scholarship tends to lean towards the reading of a retrospective gaze, as the artist rightfully prioritizes a care for the past, for what is lost as well as the diaspora that already has taken place. As such, the understanding of belonging has formed with a primarily retrospective inclination through contemporary exhibitions on diaspora art that at times falls short of discovering the different dimensions the definition of belonging can assume. A recent example comes from the 2019 exhibition the light gets in from the Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, NY, which presented, as its exhibition catalogue states, artworks that address conditions of mobility, vulnerability, and the loss of and yearning for home. Although the artworks the show brought together were individually powerful, the connective tissue between them was weakened by this solely retrospective gaze and the theme of loss without an attention to the present or an effort to reach towards a speculative future as the meaning of belonging evolves for all involved. Another example can be seen in the 2017-18 The Time. The Place. exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery where the exhibition catalogue once again claims the works’ connection through qualities of longing, belonging, or displacement. Though this show brought together a wider array of themes such as borderlessness and in-betweenness into focus, its attention to only the past as well as its heavily American artist list deserves attention when considering the internationality of a conversation revolving around forced exile and belonging.

I of course must note that there are moments where the discussion stretches across the retrospective to the present; from the scope of this research it can be said that this is seen more amongst non-Eurocentric spaces — an example of this can be the 2019 exhibition Arrival City/Seeking Home: The Afghan Narrative at the Commune Artist Colony in Karachi, Pakistan which included “textual, photographic and video documentary-based journalistic works… [exploring and questioning] the idea of home, and its relation to identity through the Afghan narrative of migration and displacement.” Previously exhibited at the German Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice 2016, here not only the lost home but the “displacement and existence in between homes lost and those acquired” were considered at the forefront (Khan).

These are only a few contemporary examples; the list of artworks and art institutions speaking on the lost home can easily stretch on if one wishes to look. And though this perspective in itself is valuable and essential in beginning a conversation on displacement and belonging through art practice, sticking to this one reading of belonging as a crucial theme in diaspora art limits its capacity and multifaceted nature. As I discuss it, a more nuanced analysis and discussion of works that delve into belonging and home add new definitions to how we understand belonging itself, not only as an artistic but a sociopolitical phenomenon investigated through art. As such, it is required for us to consider the multiple registers on which the artworks formally and theoretically operate. The retrospective reading on home that is already prevalent becomes more intriguing and multilayered when it is combined with a gaze towards the present and future: a discussion as an open invitation to not only mourn the lost home and heal from trauma but to inspect or search for the present new one, thus providing a novel, contemporary investigation of the displaced’s borderless identity and belonging (becoming-other, as Elspeth Probyn calls it), or lack thereof.

Throughout this paper, I will be discussing three artists’ production of trauma in diaspora art and the new dimensions of belonging that their methodologies explore, then analyzing these dimensions of belonging, trauma’s rupturing or magnetizing effect, and the ways belonging is created with retrospective and prospective gazes. In this sense, “belonging expresses a desire for more than what is, a yearning to make skin stretch beyond individual needs and wants,” and one goal of this paper is to propose different modalities of reading the sensation of that longing (Probyn 6). Mona Hatoum, Mohamad Hafez, and Kutluğ Ataman work with particular, nuanced approaches to trauma and with “heightened sensitivities to the sensibilities… [capturing] other manners of being and desires for becoming-other,” without only relying on a retrospective gaze or a mourning towards a lost home — though this gaze and its stakes to be explored shortly are undoubtedly handled and weaved into the works on various layers and registers (Probyn 5). Instead, these artists combine the past with a care to assess the present borderlessness and conditions of belonging in order to understand the evolution of home itself by formally and theoretically operating on not one but multiple registers.

Mona Hatoum is not a stranger to displacement and questions of belonging. Born to a Palestinian family in Beirut, like many exiles in Lebanon after 1948 she was unable to obtain an identity card. She grew up in what she describes as a “family that had suffered a tremendous loss and existed in a sense of dislocation,” and getting stranded in London as war broke out in Lebanon was a second, unexpected, unwelcome wave of dislocation (Hatoum). Currently, she resides and works from London, UK as a displaced artist.

Mohamad Hafez similarly has been away from home for more than a decade now since he first acquired a one-way visa to the United States for his education in architecture. In the aftermath of 9/11, he was unable to visit his family in Damascus until his studies were complete, which evolved into eight gruesome years in rural Iowa. As his homesickness for Syria and his culture built up, he found himself using his studies in architecture to exert this yearning and to reconstruct scenes and streetscapes of Syria soon to become his full-time art practice. His practice refers to the political turmoil in the Middle East and exhibits a juxtaposition of the past and present of Syria through the amalgamation of old and new aesthetics he embeds in the formal qualities of the work.

Kutluğ Ataman stands on much firmer ground than Hatoum and Hafez, and though he works just like them from a place far from home — he currently resides in London, Barcelona, and Istanbul — it is a voluntary choice unlike the two exiled artists. His connection to belonging and trauma instead comes from a history different yet just as violent and at home (this difference in the location of trauma proves later to be very influential in the way he handles the idea of exile). Around his twenties, Ataman was involved in the 1980 coup d’etat in Turkey which led to his imprisonment and torture. After his release, his migration to California, USA for studies in film was voluntary, and still he chooses to mostly reside outside of Turkey — though considering his openness on his homosexuality and his past experiences in the political climate of a country where any concept of LGBTQ+ is illegal and unacknowledged, all this can demand questioning of “voluntary” in this context.

Bringing these displaced artists and their artworks together creates a floor for a unique discussion of contemporary views on diaspora art and the impact of trauma on shaping ideas of (un)belonging. Homebound, Hiraeth, and Küba are far apart from each other in geography, methodology, and intention, and the end products are barely similar enough to group them together in any other shape or form. Yet their three-dimensionality and their choice to take on the theme of home from non-colonial, non-Western perspectives become the crux of intersection between the works even as their handling of belonging itself and the affect of the works diverge from one another completely. While Hatoum’s Homebound speaks to being prohibited from belonging when the sense of home is taken away, to an unease and unfamiliarity regarding the concept of home through her employment of the uncanny, Hafez’s Hiraeth investigates the understanding of belonging through reconstruction, homesickness and nostalgia, visualizing the amalgamation of a home morphed into something unrecognizable. Ataman’s installation in turn takes on the discussion of a belonging in unbelonging, how belonging can be constructed when you are rejected from belonging to the majority, exploring the foreignness that accompanies the Other within a place you by definition are meant find home in.

Thus, each of these artworks visualize various definitions of trauma and exile, draw out multifarious ways of seeing and complicating belonging without the confines of a traditional reading of the lost home and the yearning for it. They provide proof that alongside the retrospective gaze there exists a desire and care to acknowledge an ever-developing and evolving new home in the present, an effort to find versions of belonging in this new faraway setting, and an omnipresent sense of the unbelonging and unhomeliness correlating to the trauma of exile. As we ourselves need both a retrospective gaze towards our history of home and a present awareness of the ever-growing phenomenon of displacement so that we can take the right steps forwards in our grappling with the question “where do I belong?,” do we not need art to grapple alongside us, in a perspective that can only be grasped through art practice? This novel exploration of these art pieces reveal how they embody our present-day struggles and enrich our understanding of the plethora of ways with which we construct a sense of belonging as opposed to a sense of identity when we are forced to be displaced. A step beyond the retrospective and towards the present is a step towards understanding what the Other with whom we in our day-to-day barely get to interact due to psychological or geographical distance feels in their borderlessness.

Toolbox for Home: as Unbelonging, as Nation

Contemporary art historian Claudette Lauzon in her book The Unmaking of Home in Contemporary Art argues that when considering themes such as displacement, “the difficulties associated with attempting to situate oneself psychically, culturally, and geographically” float to the surface of the work, and thus “‘home’ becomes a floating signifier of belonging, loss, return, and new beginnings” (70). At once, this signifier serves to consider a yearning for a faraway home just as it emerges in Hiraeth, or the trauma of being prohibited from entering (or leaving) home as in Homebound, or even profound alienation as in Küba. The question of belonging addresses not only this ever-present question of home but also directly touches upon the inherent human emotion to find attachment. Thus a primary inclination of an analysis of works such as Hatoum’s, Hafez’s or Ataman’s can easily be to discuss the emotions its audience can first read from it: longing, sorrow, or other sentiments that rely on and are tied to a gaze of the artist back towards a past, towards something no longer here in the present, a home lost to time.

These considerations of emotion and the retrospective gaze indeed address a significant aspect of displacement and fashion the foundation upon which the contemporary understanding of forced exile and its effects on the individual and the community or nation must be built. Yet as this framing of art on exile and diaspora becomes mainstream, it in turn underlines two primary concerns: firstly, it misguidedly assumes and proposes that some “coherent site of absolute belonging” to a single, concrete place could ever be achieved. Critical theorist and curator Irit Rogoff in her book Terra Infirma contends that the question of belonging brings up “naively” that one has a single place of home and may attempt to make such an entity the center of one’s search throughout life; instead of this singular goal of nostos, Rogoff saliently proposes through this question of belonging a discussion of “the constant presence of a politics of location in the making” (14). Similar to politics of location, politics of human identity are also in constant making, and with displacement comes a change in setting that carries with it a corresponding change in the person. Thus, one cannot ignore the processes by which identity comes into being and is permanently in flux, and that the question of belonging evolves and coexists with a permanent and oft overlooked concept of unbelonging and unhomeliness coined by critical theorist Homi Bhabha. According to Bhabha, unhomeliness is not a physical state, but instead “an emotional state: unhomed people don’t feel at home even in their own homes because they don’t feel at home in any culture and, therefore, do not feel at home in themselves” (202). As tied back to displacement, loss of primary home and the resultant diaspora to a foreign setting induces in someone not only the yearning for the past home — or the outopia if the place once home is now lost completely — but also a constant unease that stems from the in-betweenness of the person’s location and identity, “between efforts at self-positioning… inscribed both with a sense of loss of that earlier seamless emplacement we might have thought we had and with the insecurity of not yet having a coherent alternative to inhabit” (Rogoff 15). Thus we can consider unbelonging as the point where both the person and the artwork might go “beyond the binary position of homeness and homelessness… Here, unhomeliness does not signify homelessness but rather an uncanny feeling vacillating between self and other” (Bhabha 205; Farahbakhsh and Ranjbar 108). Rogoff and Bhabha’s explorations of these concepts not only situate the understanding of home and belonging in the contemporary setting, but they also prove fundamental in the upcoming discussion and situating of the artworks and their intentions.

Though the two terms, belonging and unbelonging, are linguistically situated as polar opposites, I propose in my reading that they are two sides of the same coin, coexisting in a person between or without borders. Borders have traditionally been lines of division and utilized as a symbol by artists who choose to write and make work on the topic, “the final line of resistance between a mythical ‘us’ and an equally mythical ‘them’ (Marchevska 179). With the emotion humans load onto the concept of home, the notion of diaspora also inherently bears the consideration of an unfitting, a borderlessness in the position of the person, and these two identities are forever intertwined in this asymptotic search for concreteness and stability in an ever-evolving identity or community.

The second concern that emerges from the question of belonging follows this line of thought and extends it. With the established awareness that belonging coexists with unbelonging and is inherently dependent on a multiplicity of geographies beyond the past home, it becomes clear that the basic, modern understanding of belonging, as Rogoff stipulates, limits the viewpoint of the artist and their art to only the past through the expectation that belonging resides in a single place (usually of birth or of maturation). It ignores this already established tie to the present geography, and assumes that the art making is wholly dependent on a looking back. Instead, the coexistence of belonging and unbelonging demands the coexistence of the past and present, and the acknowledgement of the perpetual, in-flux state of identity. In order to consider belonging in a setting where past and present inherently coexist, it is best to follow the thread from the singular individual to the multiple: the concept of belonging only exists in the presence of a system to belong to. Historically, this is the community for the individual, or in more modern terms, the nation. According to Benedict Anderson, the nation is a community, because “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (7). In this sense, nation becomes the closest linked system onto which a sense of belonging is latched.

In line with this thought, the nation can also become a signifier for the individuals residing in it. Cultural theorist Stuart Hall proposes that “what the nation means is an ongoing project, under constant construction…its meaning is constructed within, not above or outside representation…The meaning of the nation comes through its objects and artifacts which come to stand for and symbolize its essential values” (5). Consider as a Barthesian example the photograph of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk that decorates every classroom wall in Turkey, or the sight of the Acropolis in Athens, visible from every house and window by law. Such sublime objects as mythified characters and symbols become imbued with meaning beyond their formal qualities and grow to represent an ideology, the culture, and the nation itself (Žižek, Sublime). Thus, it is through identifying these subjects that we can see the individuals who identify themselves with these subjects. As the nation builds itself up and evolves as a project with its sublime objects, the individual too evolves in this environment and with these objects. As a nation’s core building block, the individual (in our case, the artist) is always under construction themselves and in a fluid state of evolution. Hall’s discussion of the nation then parallels the artist in geographical and psychological flux: the objects and artifacts which have been created to stand for and symbolize their essential values are in this case the artworks of the artists. Through Hall, a bridge forms between the coexisting retrospective and prospective gazes of the artist and the artwork’s task and function as an object to carry meaning of this evolving geographical, neocultural, and personal identity; this reconception of belonging in terms of a nation-system opens a new avenue of thinking through belonging in its entirety. In order to consider such nuanced dimensions of belonging beyond its initial meaning, it is essential that the artist and artwork are not simply assessed with attention solely towards their yearning or loss, as has been the critical trend. Instead, and the chosen installations achieve this impeccably and in most novel manners, the question of “where do I belong?” should be turned on its head for these works to voice fully their respective diachronicities and multilayered sociopolitical critiques on the themes of trauma and losing a home.

Home Behind the Wire

Mona Hatoum’s Homebound is an experience that begins prior to coming face to face with the visual. The first to greet the viewer even before they step into Homebound is a continuous droning hum. The sound seeps into the walls and travels through the corridors almost as a precursor to what the eye will meet — a tableau of a surrealist roomscape, all barricaded with taut steel wire. The table in the middle attracts the eye first, large enough for a small family; the top of it is crowded with pans, sieves, colanders turned upside down like hats, dark steel jaws of a pair of scissors left open. Metal chairs are placed around it as if settled for a dinner, and from them the viewer’s gaze finds the rest of the metal strewn around in this ‘room.’ A black iron bed is at the back corner as if at the literal corner of a bedroom, beside it a rose pink baby’s cradle where a mother on the bed would be able to reach, both devoid of their regular cots and comforts. On the other side is a corner of couches and armchairs coupled with small bedside tables, all once again metal and barren. A stack of cabinets, a rack empty of clothing, clusters of metal, even a birdcage are all strewn about in a cluster reminiscent of a familiarly domestic room. What brings these clusters together are the meandering electric cables around all objects, and the light that comes with them — they snake around and are clipped onto colanders, scissors, any piece of metal they find, tied together with this continuous wave of incandescence traveling through the construction, lighting up intermittently through the many lamps and bulbs propped around or hidden inside the metals. The clusters take turns to “come to life… glowing with light and buzzing with an audible electrical current that runs through all the objects” (Ander and Rottner). Homebound is a quintessential example for a gaze towards the present on exile — as I will discuss, in Hatoum’s room the exile is ever-present and the individual is prohibited from belonging, entering, or leaving. Far from looking back to a lost home, trauma and unbelonging manifest themselves instead through a lack of safety and ease at home, and through this lack of home does the yearning find realization.

Homebound (2000), Mona Hatoum, mixed-media installation with kitchen utensils, furniture, electric wire, light bulbs, computerized dimmer unit, amplifier and speakers. Installation view at Duveen Galleries in Tate Britain, London, 2000. Photo by Edward Woodman. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano/Beijing/Le Moulin.

In two extensive interviews, one with the Menil Collection accompanying her show aptly named Terra Infirma and another with fellow artist and friend Janine Antoni, Hatoum frames her history and abundance of experience as the inspirations that come to the fore in her work through what she terms a “sense of disjunction,” apparent here in how the objects we encounter are disjunct with the expected environment (Hatoum). In this sense, the principal factor in her work — and one of the key connective tissues between the three works — is trauma. By employing the role of trauma in carving certain aspects of one’s history into one’s character, most commonly aspects of loss and violence, Hatoum creates a rupture in belonging, a key concept which I will expand on momentarily. Nevertheless, it must be stated that even though oftentimes her “thought-provoking objects… examine displacement and her heritage with an eye towards the Middle East,” (Linden) the argument that the artist makes work on such topics for her homeland or affected by her heritage must be pushed back against. Situating Hatoum (or many other artists treated similarly in art criticism) through her birthplace and her nationality, or with comments such as “indeed, Hatoum is most successful when she interrogates the politics of her homeland” serve only to force a narrative onto the artist who is not and should not be tied to the politics of a place nor must their work be a commentary specifically “for [their] people” (Hatoum). Instead, the work should be inspected as an objective entity unimbued by an expectancy of the sociopolitics the artist may be connected to through history or heritage and not necessarily through art practice.

With this perspective in mind, her Homebound can be viewed as a piece characteristic of Hatoum’s ambitions in embedding trauma into the creation of an environment: it is an intricately balanced combination of unrest, anxiety, and the foreignization of the familiar. Mona Hatoum herself describes her work to commonly include “a sense of instability or restlessness or a feeling of a destabilized environment where it makes you almost question the ground you walk on” (“Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma”). In this regard, the concept of the uncanny which Hatoum strives to achieve through her art practice must first be addressed for a more holistic analysis of her work. The uncanny is a sensation of the Stranger, different from an Other or a Foreigner though these identities coexist within the Stranger. We are not foreign to the object or situation we are facing, nor are we an outsider to something we are familiar with. Instead, as the Stranger, the Xenos, in that moment we exist on the threshold — just as we exist with Homebound, on the threshold, not able to escape but not being able to enter. This dichotomy-turned-dilemma of being prohibited both from leaving and from entering is one of the key ways Hatoum establishes the uncanny. In Freudian terms, the uncanny refers to the experience of something old and long-familiar returning as unfamiliar, “a sense of fright before what ought to have remained secret but has come to light. These strange events often trigger a double response of fear and fascination when we confront someone [or something] concealed within ourselves. When we grasp ourselves as Other, the familiar becomes utterly unfamiliar. We discover that we are ‘strangers to ourselves’ and our place in the world, in the artwork itself — haunted by what Julia Kristeva calls ‘une étrangeté inquiétante’ (169)… This shudder of the uncanny marks the limit of knowledge—knowledge of others, knowledge of ourselves” and in this case, knowledge of our belonging (Freud 192-200, qtd. by Rumble 302). Though the uncanny starts as a philosophical, psychological, and Freudian-ontological phenomenon, it is unsurprising that it becomes such a strong component in visual art. In Homebound this is most apparent through the use of familiar, homely objects in an unconventional, alienating space and the prohibition from entering dictated by the fence. Hatoum has chosen to decorate this room with appliances we are used to seeing sit silently in our kitchens, stacked up in our cabinet shelves next to the plates — but instead she turns colanders and graters upside down, takes them outside of the kitchen and lays them onto a table reminiscent not of dining sets but instead laboratory or classroom furniture. By “taking something local and specific, [furthering their geography from their natural settings of a home, Hatoum establishes a strong feeling of the unfamiliar and the haunting], translating [the objects] into something that resonates on a number of different levels to many people” (“Mona Hatoum at Tate Modern”). While we have instinctively tied our experiences to such concrete objects as symbols of memories, finding them in such a place raises the question of home itself and if it exists at all. And regardless of if this is a place of belonging, the dichotomy between prison and home, between not being able to escape versus not being able to enter, is only strengthened by the fences that create the threshold.

Detail from installation views at the Menil Collection, 2017 and the Tate Modern, 2016. Still from videos, courtesy of the Menil Collection and ArtFund UK.

It is worth noting here the connection between the Freudian uncanny and Bhabha’s concept of the unhomely (developed from the Freudian unheimlich). With the sense of discomfort and strangeness develops a feeling of unbelonging and unhomeliness in one’s experience of the artwork. When we are so used to sitting in our homes on the cushions of our furniture among the soft lights and sounds of our house, Hatoum strips the landscape of all that familiarity. The naked steel frames of the objects are now characterized as metal traps strewn around an escape room; the lights and sounds only turn oppressive. It proposes that when the comfort of home is stripped away, we may not know or recognize what we are looking at; even the very desire of belonging is brought under scrutiny, for we neither desire nor are able to achieve belonging to such a place. And even if we did, and were, we would not be allowed to.

On top of the visual, or perhaps before this is all taken in, the naming of the work as the first and foremost definition of the art piece adds an essential reading to the literal and figurative room. The word “homebound” brings with it direct references to binding, enclosures, housebound people; a certain form of ‘bounded’ nature in the installation is pre-established. Hatoum could be referring to a home that is bound itself both literally with the cables and the fence and figuratively with the idea of entrapment in such a space, or a person who is homebound — bound to their home that is this unsettling concoction of objects and sounds, or on the way home, but never finding or reaching it in earnest. An exiled person is forever homebound, but forever displaced. In this vein of thought, the room is a placeholder, a home that is not the one meant to be. Or, perhaps the home strives to keep the Other out, in turn Otherizing itself, binding itself to a non-home-ness that can never choose xenophilia. In this case, the room itself is exiled from all else, a self-made prison.

Detail from installation views at the Menil Collection, 2017 and the Tate Modern, 2016. Stills from videos, courtesy of the Menil Collection and ArtFund UK.

This is where trauma as a rupture in belonging comes into play. What I mean by the phrase is trauma’s inherent dual quality to rip apart or bring closer, magnetize individuals or psyches (its magnetizing quality is one Ataman’s Küba adopts as will be discussed below). In Hatoum’s case, trauma has been employed as a force that has damaged and ripped apart an environment that now is left imbued with that characteristic, the weight and strangeness that remains. The room demands confrontation and consideration of the happenings that took place here, to these objects, to manufacture such an unwanted space, a space prohibiting the viewer from ever wanting to belong. Her effort is to manufacture an environment that has been “affected by some kind of trauma… [and through these traumas to] create a fear in the environment or these objects that are around you” (“Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma”). The unhomeliness and the demanded considerations of traumas past slowly seep in when one stands in front of it, specifically generated and strengthened by two particular approaches Hatoum takes to building the installation: sound and light.

As installation grows as a popular and effective art form, it becomes all the more clear that taking advantage of as many senses as possible is undeniably the strongest method for immersion. In Homebound, Hatoum takes advantage of an audial component in the work, and I would argue it is what achieves her goals towards an uncanny experience for the audience that foreignizes them from the familiar grouping of objects, and characterizes the work first and foremost away from the comforts of our idea of home. The buzz of electricity meandering over and under the furniture overpowers the stage and gives life to the appliances, creating the illusion that it is generated not by the light cables but by the wire drawn taut before everything we see; in Homebound’s exhibition in Documenta 11 as well, the catalogue itself suggests that “the wire barrier is reminiscent of an electric guard fence… [keeping] the visitors from touching the electrified metal household objects” (Ander and Rottner). This reading of wires as electrified barriers particularly adds to the unrest the viewer feels from the installation, and “is very heavy in its connotations… [this reading] takes you to zones of restriction of movement, of borders, barricades…,” and to the concepts of borderlessness and belonging from which the viewer is prohibited (“Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma”). These newfound connotations are resonant with this ‘home’ Hatoum has built while stripping it from all its familiarity and therefore its desirability for ownership, for belonging after trauma.

Accompanying this successful establishment of unrest is Hatoum’s care for the effective use of light as another stimulant of estrangement. Though the viewer may assume the buzz is from the fence at first, it comes quickly clear that it is the incessant electricity that powers the many lights strewn around the installation. The cables throughout the room under and over tables cover the chairs, connect to the pots and colanders with spring clamps, and curl into each other like an ouroboros snake. Though the objects are motionless, the lights are also an active force similar to the sound in the viewing of the work: different clusters of objects light up in turn, the room’s lighting constantly shifts yet stays at all times dim enough for the eye to discover a new detail every time lights come on and off. The metal bars of the surfeit of naked furnitures are lit up one by one, their shadows draw prison bars on the walls and the floor. Suddenly the light, familiarly comforting to a human being since the dawn of time and the protection from danger it has provided since caves were our homes, is an accomplice to the buzzing, giving the furniture a new, cold, menacing tone and turning the home into an unsettling landscape.

There’s a degree to which the shapes and the buzz feel constant, even ordinary. Yet for each visitor, the readings can completely change like the ground is pulled from under one’s feet. This is due to the affect Hatoum’s work possesses. “Though affect is most often used loosely as a synonym for emotion…[in this context of the experience of art and media], intensity will be equated with affect;” affect is central in art theory to an understanding of the master narratives and to capturing viscerality, “of our information- and image-based late-capitalist culture, in which so-called master narratives are perceived to have foundered” (Massumi 88). Originating from the Latin word affectus, meaning disposition, affect is pre-personal, and the type of experience it involves is unconscious. Not unlike a bifurcation point in chaos theory, affect or intensity creates a sudden critical point in the viewer where a smooth change in the subconscious reaction occurs. The experience of affect is hard to pin down as its birth in the physical body precedes cultural emotions, personal feelings, and the thought that would normally pinpoint what the sensation actually is — skin reacts before the mind can comprehend what it is reacting to at all.

It is works such as Homebound that harness this unconscious affect most powerfully through a multifaceted sensory and immersive experience. Thus that feeling of the uncanny and the haunting sense that the piece is reported to evoke in the audience are all parts of its affect. Affect is a holistic concept, yet in Homebound it manifests particularly through the combination of the aforementioned sound component and the threshold the audience is placed in: between inside and outside, between entering the work yet never physically being inside it. The audience is not even allowed inside the installation, yet the engagement of the body in the space is as if one traverses its tangled corridors. We consider (un)belonging from the outside — resonant with Probyn’s speculation that “if you have to think about belonging, perhaps you are already outside… [that] outside belonging is already beyond belonging and identity… operating now not as a substantive claim but as a manner of being” (8). The presence of the work as one that fills the space with its physicality, sound, and light elicits a visceral, physiological response inherently connected to our coded evaluative (positive or negative) orientation and our familiarity towards the objects themselves, one that must be seen as heavily phenomenological. “The transmission of affect [is] the idea that our energies are not exclusively ours and that there is no distinction between the individual and their surroundings,” and the artwork takes over the decisions of how our energies flow: simple line shadows on the wall can read as line drawings or metal bars, a harmless buzz in the air can remind us of our air purifier or the buzz of the refrigerator in our kitchen that echoes in the silence of the night, or electric fences, even electric chairs, the many freedoms we lack in space and movement in our day-to-day (Brennan 8). In Homebound, the experience of the living room heightens without us knowing our feelings of alienation, of unsettlement, of a sudden unfamiliarity with our surroundings which would normally strike as so familiar. It is because it is like us and yet not like us at all, “hovering between the knowable and unknowable, that it strikes us as uncanny. The human being is, as Sophocles says in Antigone, ‘what is most strange on this earth’” (Rumble 303).

Through these techniques, Homebound places the audience at that exact in-between of familiar and unfamiliar that so explicitly defines the uncanny, and through this also manages to recreate the in-betweenness that characterizes unbelonging. Following the previous discussion of Bhabha’s unhomeliness, Hatoum’s positioning of the audience straddles homeliness and homelessness where the loss of the once-comfortable emplacement into a home (through the dissolution of its familiar character) clashes with the disorienting insecurity of not having a new, suited alternative — the alternative Hatoum proposes here is the unrest and strangeness of a dystopia once perhaps a home, now more strongly a place prohibiting one from belonging. In other words, it forces unbelonging onto the participant. With the wire border between the audience and the landscape, Hatoum actually manages to physically distance the viewer from the familiar on top of the psychological distance we already feel with the sense of the uncanny, and blurs the borders between what we know and what we are foreign to. It does not let the viewer self-position, and even though it may at first seem like a piece on a yearning for belonging and finding (a way into) a home, this is where the artwork instead becomes most embodying of the state of unhomeliness and unbelonging (of the prohibition of it) through the rupturing by trauma into the space.

So how does exile fit into the living room, and how does the room accomplish more than a sole retrospective gaze could have accomplished? In Homebound, the exile is ever-present. Whatever transpired to create this room, it has long past. What is now there in present time is an environment meant for a home, turned into one for exile, unsafe, unwanted but forced upon. What we see is not a lost home, nor the yearning for what this room once was, but instead a home turned hostile and the subsequent yearning for belonging somewhere, anywhere familiar in comparison to this lack of homeliness. The parody that the barbed wire forms only heightens the sense of containment and poses the question: what does it mean to be forced into or forced out of somewhere? Kristeva’s Stranger is manifested through this act of standing on the threshold and gazing into something we cringe to imagine ourselves in. We maybe imagine if we had to be in there, homeless inside a home, homesick, homebound. Coming back to the question of “where do I belong?”, we are forced to hope the answer is “not here” and in turn consider once more where this scene belongs to, and who belongs in it.

No Way Back

Mohamad Hafez’s Hiraeth stands as one of his most impressive and cohesive works, and part of a great collection of sculptural edifices that has now come to be his signature style of practice. Hiraeth however deserves careful analysis as a piece of great visual detail that packs inspiration and influence from trauma and nostalgia to discuss themes of homesickness and belonging in the unique contemporary setting the artist and the art occupy. The sculpture, quite characteristic of Hafez’s practice, is a crowded compilation of found objects-turned-architectural structures that hearken to the streets of his childhood’s Damascus, bringing shifting buildings, crumbling façades, and towering minarets together with personal objects and graffitied Qur’anic verses embellishing the three-dimensional cityscape. For a city where individual strands are weaved together to create a venue of many identities, Hafez unites elements from traditional, religious, and sociocultural motifs to flesh out a miniature of the Damascus he once called home. Built as a quadripartite assembly with a darker, chthonic fifth tier at the bottom, it is divided with axes into five quadrants that visualize different architectures and bring to life a multilayered vision of Syria in the midst of trauma.

Hiraeth (2016), Mohamad Hafez, mixed media sculpture with plaster, paint, found objects, 61 x 35 x 21 in. Photo courtesy of the artist. Installation view at the Oriental Institute at University of Chicago. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Before an encounter with the work, once more the naming — not unlike Hatoum’s — is the first contributor to its theme and message. The word Hafez chose for the title, “hiraeth,” is a Welsh word referring to “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past” (Hafez, Hiraeth). From the very beginning, then, we are given a signifier for a search of home and of belonging in the artwork. It embodies fully the range of the specific emotions Hafez is working with and explains that the work is not only a recreation of something pre-existent in a new form filtered through an emotional and personal perspective, but also a representation of a mythic space, an outopia for a Damascus that never was and never will be.

As one of the main connective tissues between the three works, trauma stands as an important starting point in Hiraeth as well. Hafez’s approach to trauma and to belonging in such a place is, divergent from Hatoum’s discussion regarding the prohibition of belonging, one that is influenced by nostalgia and a desire to reconstruct the place ruined and changed by trauma of war, and through that, to reconstruct the sense of belonging itself. “We owe it to the generations that grew up knowing nothing but war and conflicts in the region … to remind them of the golden age of our cultures,” Hafez once explained in an interview. “That’s why none of [my] frames depict destruction, but rather beautiful, old, rustic architecture that shows thousands of years of history and richness” (Villareal). This is clear in his handling of his minute detailing and careful attention to the beauty of the architectural or traditional components that he and others certainly cherished: a minaret, painted with intricate motifs reminiscent of the storied minaret of Aleppo’s Umayyad Mosque — a Unesco World Heritage site heavily damaged in the civil war in 2013 during a skirmish between Syrian insurgents and Bashar al-Assad’s government forces — is surrounded by manifold facets of homes, close enough to exchange goods and ask for sugar from the neighbor when one is out; a tricycle waits beside a home secluded from the bustle of the main streets. Overlaid atop this image of the city are subtle hints of fraying that echo without depicting the recent violence and war traumatizing the city and its unhomely character.

In most hands, nostalgia in our day and age has become a challenging topic to execute without ending up with a cliche or a repetition — it is hard to avoid such issues when a theme becomes so prevalent in both modern pop and art culture. But in Hafez’s case, nostalgia is executed with a care accompanied by a genuine connection through which it develops into a propulsive force for the reconstruction of home. This is clear especially in the upper half of the artwork where the multifaceted view of homes is made up of walls with their own gold plated pointed, horseshoe, and ogee arched windows characteristic of Islamic architecture. Between the minaret and the walls, lights are festooned across and around the other quadrants, and the viewing eye naturally follows the light to find the first of multiple clotheslines hung between walls. These lines, combined with the old TV antennas and his choices in the earth tones, silvers, reds, and golds, frame Hiraeth as a cohesive image while creating a dynamic visual around this most multifaceted section of the sculpture. His particular choices in line-making are key visual markers of the reimagined cultural Syrian landscape to recreate the feeling of homeliness; such details offer a glimpse into the color and traditions of the city’s soul itself, a recreation of belonging through a reconstruction of community: “the streetscapes that [Hafez] loved the most about Old Damascus. The balconies, these laundry lines, the overlapping architecture, minarets and churches dancing together in the skyline. People conversing, overlapping market activity on the ground level, so much richness and the Syrian fabric” (Hafez, “Syrian Artist”). I propose that an additional, visceral dimension to belonging is present here, one that touches upon the Foucauldian claim that the spaces in which we seek belonging “are not a kind of void, inside of which we could place individuals and things” (Foucault, “Other” 23). Instead, the sights and sounds of a place are integral to the ways in which we “live and think belonging, the ways in which space presses upon us and is in turn fashioned by desires” (Probyn 10). It is these colors and smells of the city that he is reconstructing that make belonging desirable as if to fight off trauma’s disenchanting affect.

To further the effect of the warmth of these ordinary objects, Hafez leverages a dichotomy between them and his discreet punctures of the landscape: among the minaret’s painted surface, Hafez has sprinkled a loudspeaker for the adhan (call to prayer), golden cog gears glistening with light not unlike something holy or explosive; here he hides a few surveillance cameras, strategically placed to resemble the cogs and adhans. These small but politically charged additions appear throughout his work when one scrutinizes. The theme of surveillance highly relevant to the Syrian modern state takes the front seat in his motifs contrasted against the peaceful, characteristic cultural objects which relate to the people and the inner world of Damascus. Hafez produces through this dichotomy a contrast with the ominous security cameras that represent Syria’s perceived surveillance state and the decaying grayness and peeling of gold paint that are superimposed onto the work which accurately depict a present-day Damascus over the old. With such a clear reference to a sociopolitical reality, Hiraeth draws attention to the depicted city, and through it, to the nation evolving into a state almost unrecognizable to those once belonging to it.

Detail from Hiraeth, top right

Hafez’s treatment of the sculpture and the combination of modern and traditional-historical elements also serve to establish a timeless feeling; time becomes multilayered and hard to pinpoint. While parts of the object are clearly timeless and resonant with the inherent character of Damascus and its people’s warmth — the sharing of supplies between neighbors is symbolized with pots left between windows — the cameras and the soot on fraying walls from recent explosions are extremely timely. With such an open ended time frame, this avenue of analysis pushes the viewer towards considering beyond the past and present for the concepts of home and belonging but look to the future as well: What is the future of home in this context? Is this image condemned to slowly and forever deteriorate with war, or can home be reclaimed? Far from it, these vestiges of the old are simply more proof that the moment the displaced was exiled from their home, home stopped being home in the physical sense and became immortalized in an image long lost. If one had never left Damascus and resided in the Damascus we see in Hiraeth superimposed by the present horrors and irreversible changes, would that be considered home still with all it has lost from what Hafez once defined as ‘home’? Even if home is refound, belonging again will at best be a complete reorientation, at worst impossible.

Returning to his employment of nostalgia, another instance we witness a combining and disrupting of the previously built sense of belonging through reconstruction is found in the lower quadrant. In the bottom singular façade Hafez contrasts the crowded layers above with breathing room, placing center stage the spray-painted ayah on the wall and the antique tricycle. The ayah Hafez has chosen is from Surah Ar-Rahman 55:26 which reads: “Every being on earth is bound to perish.” (Qur’an 55:26). The text is a nod towards traditions of calligraphy, which due to “the astonishing extent and imaginative ways it has taken the written word far beyond pen and paper into all art forms is referred to as a uniquely original feature of Islamic art.” Considering the essential influence of Islamic art and iconography in Damascus, the design on Hiraeth through the use of calligraphy sits “between transmitting a text and expressing meaning through a formal aesthetic code,” carrying with it a long tradition of the city and its religion as a token of home (“Calligraphy in Islamic art”). Deep set into the sculpture and framed by golden embellishments and vermillion wildflowers, the calligraphy shares the quadrant with the antique tricycle parked beside. The decaying, crumbling, haphazard quality of Hiraeth as well as the antiquity of the tricycle in the frame both complicate the idea of decay and mortality that the ayah brings forth: what was once home here has perished just as all else is bound to, so what can hold one back from imagining all else that is bound to perish? Homes, countries, identities, whole cultures. Following the line of thought, there may one day be nowhere to belong for any of us. The crucial part of this section is the fact that the “Qur’anic calligraphy is presented as spray painted,” introducing to this traditional and homely motif a revolutionary, disruptive element that hearkens to acts of revolutionary protest “to defy the iron fist of dictatorial regimes in the region” which are ever-present in the ongoing unhomely evolution of the city and the country as a whole for Hafez (Hafez, Hiraeth).

Detail from Hiraeth, bottom quadrants

What is particularly special about Hiraeth are the questions arising from it: how is homesickness different when you cannot return to your home? Is there a cure to homesickness? The consideration of and reconstruction through this nostalgia are manifest in the warmth and care given to the structure, and though that retrospection of the city is never obscured by the hints of decay and war, it is tainted. Hafez’s decision to build his home also speaks to this idea that it must be recreated because it is lost in the real world. The cure, in his work, seems only the ongoing search to feed and tame one’s homesickness through images and a salute to the beauty of the past.

In instances such as these, Hiraeth becomes a push and pull in matters of belonging, an uncertainty between the homeliness of the past and the impossibility of belonging in the present. Though every homely “doll-sized porcelain plate [reminds us] how people would send food to their neighbors…and Syrian and Jewish fabric fragments on a clothesline” ask the viewer to explore what this place once was, it is impossible to forget the constant surveillance, the broken and burnt parts of the walls, and to ignore the loss of nostos and its subsequent pain (Villareal). What Hafez achieves is the journey through the calm and the chaos of the city in waves, and so demonstrates the duality in its character as well as in its lost past and chaotic present: peace and war time, and a loss of belonging in a nation that deteriorates in its homeliness.

The dichotomy of peace and war of course takes front seat in such a piece, and Hiraeth can be analyzed through this notion in a plethora of ways. One particularly interesting incident is the play on inside and outside: as the viewer’s eye moves through quadrants to take in the full scenery, an understanding of public and private, bustling and calm, is established. While the upper quadrants depict the exterior and are much heavier due to the depth of perspective he has created, the lower stands as a singular façade connected together with stair-like layering — these two quadrants are divided much more innocuously with some detailed pipelining, which adds to the airy quality of the bottom versus the bustle of the top. An ornate door fitting the Islamic tradition is somewhat covered by a metal sliding door, perhaps as a symbol of the slowly but surely lost beauty of the city through industrialization and war. In this tier a homely, subdued calmness resides with a bareness of decoration as if we have stepped inside a home from the streets above. So with the door, it is easy to be led ‘outside.’ Similarly, with the fifth quadrant of the work hanging from the very bottom, the viewer is suddenly deprived of any of the golden tones showcased above in the ‘exterior’, but instead this quadrant is characterized by a cold, steely blue and grey almost reminiscent of underground. In comparison to the rest, this can create multiple dichotomous readings: day and night, seen and unseen, ethereal and chthonic. It calls to mind sewage systems, the groundworks of a city, or the vestiges of a ruin. In the very midst of it, almost mosaic-like in its pattern is a cryptic shape reminiscent of a rose (visible in the full image of the work, in the middle). One can infer that Hafez refers to the Damask rose, the namesake of the city, as part of the mosaic of our consciousness as to Syria’s identity. Hafez could also be pointing at the rose considering the tragedy of war in the country, which caused the roses to wither and diminish in number year by year since 2011. In that sense, placing a symbol close to the city’s heart to its chthonic, ominous tier could be read as a description of the present of the city — that the soul of it lives currently in trauma and ruin, even if its image in his consciousness and memory remains bright and warm like above.

With these elements of dichotomy, we have established multiple ways of reading into the calm and the chaos; perhaps the most relevant way is the former already lost and the latter current — combining the retrospective with the present, sprinkled with hints of the prospective. Hiraeth occupies a space straddling the concepts of retrospective versus the present-focused gaze that inspired this paper’s argument for the more complex understanding of home and belonging: Hafez employs a retrospective gaze on his version of Damascus not as the sole influencing factor but instead combined with a gaze at the present state of his home, broken, discolored, and changed with war. This present state of ruin is superimposed on the visual of the intimate, welcoming Damascus; the warmth of colors used in the structures is symbol enough for the viewer to imagine what was once great to behold. With the superimposition of decay and war, that sense of belonging can either be stripped away, challenged by the feeling of distance, or questioned for its existence when faced with such a foreignized, unwelcoming version of what was once an integral part of an identity. Can this new version still be home? Yes, there is that indisputable yearning towards the past in all of Hafez’s work let alone in Hiraeth, but this intention of discussing the lost past should not limit the conversation to solely the past or to a single home forever unattainable. Home, in fact, is already an amalgamation of places, lost and found, and the exiled will forever reside in a borderless state so common among those that are forced away from their homeland. Thus, this reading of the work points to the effort to belong or the possible purgatory between places and identities the once-resident must exist in. This novel exploration brings the idea that some semblance of home can be found elsewhere: perhaps in our broken and divided landscape of today, it is better to redirect our efforts not to salvage a past that is not there but to define one’s belonging as a reconstructed object, as an amalgamation of places and experiences just as home may be, forever evolving as Stuart Hall declared.

Detail from Hiraeth, fifth quadrant, bottom.

Exile Within

Kutluğ Ataman’s Küba approaches belonging and its evolution from a completely new perspective by taking on the idea of belonging and confronting the audience with a unique status of outside belonging and unbelonging complicated by its very geography: exile within home. In its original commission by Artangel, London, Ataman made use of the city’s once largest Royal Mail office building — perhaps reminiscent of the material state of the neighborhood of Küba itself: “squeezed in the midst of a circle of low-income, high-rise suburban blocks near to the airport, the makeshift houses of Küba are made of cheap construction materials, scrap metal and soil: single-story hut dwellings in stark contrast to the rest of the buildings in the distant megalopolis” (Ataman). The same cheap construction materials surround the installation of Küba; forty television sets of varying shapes and sizes, and forty very comfortable armchairs take over the space. Forty sets play forty individual interviews of the people of Küba, altogether “a distant roar echoing through the dingy, grafitti-wrecked landings and stairwells,” but unique, singular narratives once close enough (“Talking Heads”). By providing the residents of a unique, exiled belonging a chance to testify, Ataman creates another dimension to belonging through a path heavily affected by present-day politics; unlike either of the other works, Küba becomes a portrait of unbelonging within home.

To analyze Ataman’s Küba, it is crucial to first understand the Küba of Turkey as a nation within a nation, and as a place of outside belonging, barred from belonging inside. Istanbul, once Konstantinopolis, an invaluable keep for two of the largest and most influential empires of Balkan history, is now a cultural, political and artistic hub, a bridge between Asia and Europe surrounded by the seas. It has at every point of its history been and still is home to countless peoples who give the city its multiethnic character. When traveling from one corner of the city to another, an Istanbulite can witness the change in the cultural color of the city simply by traversing neighborhoods. Hidden in the midst of the city’s European side, far from the buzz of the Eminönü bazaars and the historic cobblestone paths of Beyoğlu trod daily by tourists and residents alike, is Küba.

Küba (2005), Kutluğ Ataman, mixed-media installation with TV sets, armchairs. Installation view at The Sorting Office, New Oxford Street, London, 2005. Photograph: Thierry Bal. Courtesy of Artangel.

Küba has many names: to few, it is known by its official name, Mehmet Nesin Özmen District; to most, it is “a shantytown slum wedged between tower blocks and the airport in Istanbul,” a wary community of mostly Kurdish inhabitants and refugees (“Talking Heads”). In its true identity, Küba is a “rescued neighborhood,” once having come into being in the military-ruled Turkey of the late 1960s as a shantytown where left-wing militants would hide themselves and their weapons from the police and the army alike (Ataman). It has in time kept its left-wing and outsider character, and “has developed into a cohesive society, a security zone presenting an impenetrable solidarity to the outside world and providing protection against violent assaults and political terror” (Büsch). Even for residents of Istanbul, this is a rare encounter to have — many may have heard about it, most have never stepped foot close to or into the neighborhood. For this very reason, contemporary artist and filmmaker Kutluğ Ataman spent more than two years living there and immersing himself in the life of Küba, creating the video installation of the same name to bring this small Kurdish-Turkish hideout out of the shadows of the megalopolis. The monologues we are shown and must grapple with are honest descriptions, close ups that we get intimately involved with as we listen to personal tellings of their trauma, social issues, day-to-day tales, wishes for the future told by “non-conformists of diverse ethnicity, religion and political persuasion,” young, old, smoking, crying, singing anthems of home; “they are united in their defiant disregard for state control,” but that is not all that binds them into a community, a nation that belongs as one people (“Kutluğ Ataman - Küba”). One discovers weddings between TV sets, blood feuds, or shared jail time; or drinkers and devout Muslims, thieves and one-time revolutionaries together in the land they call home. “Through these interviews Ataman [draws] a map of the physical and psychological territory of a place marked by an internal exile. As the viewer [explores] the installation they [encounter] the residents and [select] which of the stories to listen to, creating their own understanding of the story of Küba” (“Kutluğ Ataman - Küba”). Since the creation of the installation, Küba has evolved, but not much. The shantytown has stayed a tight-knit community until today and has made a name for itself among admirers of its revolutionary and left-wing freedom-fighting stance, even becoming very recently a haven for others that ‘unbelong’ into Istanbul’s traditional fabric of society, and a battleground against gentrification.

Küba, Istanbul. Photos by Ugur Sahin. (Translation: left, “Traitors cannot enter;” right, “Küba continues the #RESISTANCE”)

What sets Ataman apart from the ways Hatoum and Hafez discuss exile through is the geography of exile itself: Ataman’s work complicates belonging and Hall’s concept of the nation as it chooses to discuss not an exile out of one’s home or country but an exile that occurs while still residing inside what was or is meant to be home. Küba rejects the limited definition of exile as a physical expulsion from one’s land and enlarges its meaning to encompass a psychological expulsion and isolation while still within the land; in utter parallel it rejects the limited definition of belonging and expands it to encompass belonging in unbelonging, highlighting the sense of Otherness that can exist even in spaces to which we are meant to or expected to belong. Taking on the challenge first developed by Foucault, Ataman presents ways of “breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, …to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other” (Foucault, Order xv). To visually demonstrate how belonging can be constructed when you are rejected from belonging to the majority, the installation takes over the room wherever and whenever it is installed: the TV sets and armchairs are always spread apart to cover the full environment, to take command of a space that originally belongs to a majority (or has become their leftover, disused ruins, as it was in the London Royal Mail installation). Using the installation area in such a way not only puts this community as a nation to be acknowledged visually and physically on the map through sculptural objects, but also gives voice to this voiceless and disregarded section of society. The sounds of the TV sets intermingle into one voice until one is close enough to understand a single person’s words, and this only serves to replicate how an Andersonian community functions, as one voice made up of many diversely pitched registers. Ataman through these devices has managed to create a community in the visual of the work itself to mirror the topic of belonging as a nation-system.

Through this interactive installation, Küba also brings the viewer face to face with this foreign Other that resides within yet exists so far away from and so unbelonging to the city. The most effective way this is achieved is through the interviews to which the viewer must singularly listen and piece together the picture of a neighborhood that is, as Ataman calls it, an island of people. There is a generation of a fluid identity which in time morphs into a bound community with a clear sense of belonging away from a defined Other, in this case, Istanbulites, particularly the right wing. This identification of an Other is one way that people who are in an out-group assert a certain sense of belonging to a majority — their own majority, their nation against the Other’s (Žižek, "Nation”). This creation of nation and belonging is possible because these kinds of identity questions are intersectional, cutting across various lines. When one encounters the forty different stories, the picture of a nation forms: there are “kids [having] their turf wars, they steal… there is Yalçın who went away to a religious school and got into drug-dealing. Yüksel the cuckolded wife, Raziye and Safiye who long for an education, a way out… For support they look to defiant Mother Hatun, with her gold teeth and her smoker's face;” a little girl is bullied at school by kids from another block (“Talking Heads”). Their stories alone are a palimpsest of defiant, unfitting identities yet together they become one cohesive, exiled voice that fills the space and completes a story of displacement. All are fluid identities able to consciously or subconsciously via the impact of their history, trauma and its collective memory choose their paths and enjoyments, thus shaping Küba into a community with a national soul bound by history and experience, as Herder would define it.

Detail from installation at the Royal Mail office building, London, 2006. Stills from video, courtesy of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary.

With Küba, Ataman achieves something much more powerful than bringing a hidden community to an international audience — he poses through the installation the following crucial questions: can exile be found outside of its own definition, in this case exile within one’s home? What is the inherent relationship between communities and within communities, between two that co-exist or exist despite one another, especially if one is described as the Other? And especially, as Ataman describes the neighborhood as “first and foremost a state of mind,” (Ataman) how does one find belonging in a home that resides within a place decidedly far from home, within unbelonging into the larger community or its ideology?

Then we must start at the beginning. Ataman answers his first question himself; the existence of Küba alone is proof enough that an exile within home can be found, however much it is overlooked by the other residents of home. In fact, this distance between the Other and Küba is exactly why Küba is a land of the exiled: with its own borders and still its borderless status intact, for Küba exists in a vacuum within and completely affected by another nation, separated from where it once belonged and seen as a different culture — especially since this is not only a neighborhood housing Kurds but also Turks who certainly have lived or have family in other parts of Istanbul at some point in time but moved for safety or political reasons. If that does not make this “an imagined political community” separate from Istanbul, what does? In this setting, Küba is not unlike a separate nation. Küba is imagined in that within a community even though one does not ever meet all the members with whom they co-exist, a constructed image of the community always exists in the minds of the members, which is what produces the vision of Küba we see in Küba (Anderson 7). This quality of being an “island of people” also manifests in the installation format with the monodirectionality of the TV sets and the aforementioned discussion of sound as multiples turning into one voice. The TV screens are situated to look all in the same direction, while the chairs and the sitting audience are positioned opposite them. This gesture groups the videos and the audience as two opposite groups — an establishment of community through the visual grouping of objects. A community as such then will have deep, horizontal comradeship between one another that creates the mythical illusion of ‘us,’ and indirectly too creates the mythical concept of ‘them’ (Marchevska 179). This is where a community co-existing with another community, or within as is the case of Küba and Istanbul, contextualizes itself in this relationship as the familiar, and places the other as the unfamiliar. In cases such as these two communities where tensions once existed if not still, claims of superiority or inferiority between one another widen the preexisting rift and solidify the exile status of the side with the minority label. Thus, the relationship between the exiled and the once-homeland can be defined as one of turbulence, perhaps to escalate to hostility at times of conflict not uncommon in Turkey.

I want to highlight that in Küba the idea of home and the emotions felt for home are uniquely malleable; this is made possible through the close proximity of home but also of the Other and the yet un-lost possibility of going back home. For all intents and purposes, a retrospective gaze does not practically exist for that gaze is at once the present gaze towards the same, still surviving home. There can be retrospection towards a history that is now collective trauma and collective memory, but the place itself remains, quite similar to what it was forty years ago. As such, no retrospective gaze by itself can be employed, and this is why Ataman pulls the work to such a timeless yet timely discussion. He diverges almost completely from this contemporary trend of the retrospective gaze and picks up instead the present tense in all its facets: this is a problem of today yet can be reflected to any century, any country of one’s choosing and it will resonate still. In Küba exile has become a lifestyle with a home that has been built inside what is now a foreignized, at times hostile, entity.

For his final question regarding how to find belonging in such a home so close to yet so far from the place of origin, it is best to turn to the installation and what it provides as a narrative. The forty interviews have already served as a testimony to how estranged the neighborhood is from the megalopolis, but what it also serves to show, perhaps more strongly, is the sense of Andersonian community in its most tight-knit form, essentially brought together and tightened through a collective sense of trauma and its magnetizing force. The Küba identity forms within, independent from and different than the all-encompassing large national ego that is Istanbul — there is the rub. This group of outsiders, left-wing once-revolutionaries, Kurds and Turks at some point hiding from the police, all have a history of trauma — from stories in the forty TV sets, one can infer about the struggles of life, money, and identity these people have gone through. Some have lost people, their homes, some have never had families to begin with. Then, one can consider the concept of collective trauma as a powerful force in Küba to shape a nation and an identity. This is a “process that begins with collective trauma, transforms into a collective memory, and culminates a system of meaning that allows groups to redefine who they are and where they are going” (Hirschberger). In Küba, as it is in Damascus and Homebound, trauma defines Küba’s experience; its evolution into memory and identity are exact courses taken in the neighborhood. Through the solidarity forming between people with similar traumas, Küba in time has gained a symbolic sense of meaning not unlike a Barthesian sublime object, a memory and identity to hold onto and with which alleviate their existential concerns. This is also why the installation is a landscape of interviews and memories to walk through and thus a declaration of identity in collective. We witness the magnetizing force of trauma in the installation’s singular character and voice. Furthermore, Küba formed and has remained as a periphery in the nation, with members on the borders of society, experiencing and trying to resolve the tension born out of one’s heritage or expectations being at odds with lived experience; therefore it is logical to think that they would wish to band with others who are in similar peripheral positions, just as familiar trauma and memory pulls one another together in a sense of camaraderie.

With an understanding of Küba’s identity formation, then, it is possible to consider their identity against that of the larger nation they reside in. Kutluğ Ataman describes the neighborhood as “first and foremost a state of mind. This consciousness, etched in childhood and constructed throughout adult life, is more important than religion, ideology or origin” (Ataman) — here, once again we encounter proof of the national soul, which is specifically tied to language, culture, and experience in Herderian terms (Ergang). Fed and encouraged by these dynamics around and within it, this communal, national identity is where belonging is fostered. The experience of exile, of becoming an outsider one way or the other, binds these people together, and the overall community derives its foundation from their search for somewhere, someone to belong to. This is another point of divergence by Ataman from the mainstream reading of exile and belonging: not only does exile become a state within home, but belonging also morphs into a state independent of and pulled away from the concept of location. Instead it turns into a belonging to people, to a community; arguably a bond as such between people can hold for some a much stronger connection to home.

The neighborhood is economically and politically challenging to exist within due to a clear lack of access to the workforce or a safe, healthy lifestyle compared to Istanbul. This communal struggle in fact does not take away from but encourages a stronger bond in the community: memorializing the trauma of their past and bracing the struggles of the present only brings together the ones who struggle together closer. This is how family forms, how support systems grow into a place of belonging, and how their unbelonging to the home from which they were exiled is strengthened. Ataman brings to the audience an experience of belonging that does not manifest in a place but is cultivated in a place by the people, and finally manifests in the people themselves. When interviews are conducted in the neighborhood — and they are frequent as the city’s agenda to destroy it for the construction of high rises to be sold for hundreds of thousands of lira as housing comes and goes in waves — the energy is one of family, and there is vehement argument against all actions that the government pushes for. The neighborhood members resist the possible demolition of their houses, and their wishes in turn revolve around the conservation and maintenance of Küba (Şahin). They do not want to reintegrate into their past home; they have long left that behind and settled into a new, incorporeal one which is, again, a complete opposite compared to the yearning with which this discussion had started. The exile itself had originated differently than Hafez’s or Hatoum’s case: though forced to move still, the exiled community left for their safety, for the ideology they stand behind, and refused to stay and be assimilated even though there could have been such a chance. The home was war-ridden in the coup d’etat but recovered, but they chose to stay there, settle, and find belonging away from what they decided they do not belong to, perhaps never fully did.

Küba brings all of this to the audience, which is a feat in itself, but also takes advantage of the bridge between the viewer and the screen: when the viewer steps into the disused office building and sits across the forty screens of Küba, it is a step into their ideology of belonging, their form of constructed reality and home. This constructed connection is what Ataman truly brings to the audience when he sets his installation up, and this is why his work is a tour de force — by forcing a conversation between individuals and communities, he creates a bridge between a community of exile and others that normally could not get a glimpse at one another for lack of access. Thus, Küba transforms from an installation about a shantytown slum to a representation of an enclave of resistance, a generated identity of community, an Other with its own home, its own belonging to themselves, and the mirror for the audience to gaze into for an outsider to see what is perhaps hidden among their own.

Beyond Bordered Homelands

Hatoum, Hafez, and Ataman’s practices and the specific pieces I have chosen here to dissect require an intricate scope of analysis and discussion that pulls from various corners of history and theory as this paper has displayed, which is why taking a step back and reorienting them in a wider lens is essential in their discussion not as individual pieces but as a select group of installation-based works. I have until now demonstrated the plethora of ways in which Homebound, Hiraeth, and Küba have approached and complicated belonging as: belonging through reconstruction/memory, as unbelonging, as being barred from belonging — at times creating direct correlations between its many dimensions. As the artworks are set beside one another, certain further aspects of similarity and divergence do arise: the function of trauma and care, the handling of foreignization, and their stances on exile and belonging as identity.

Trauma, as I discussed and demonstrated, is a most influential tool in the creation of identity and cultural memory, and one of the binding agents between the three artworks’ in their intentionality. This is carefully assessed with Küba in a very political facet and in a much more personal one in Homebound while Hafez chooses to tackle the personal within the political. And yet in this spectrum, there is a certain care particularly in how Ataman and Hafez execute their trauma into the artwork. What has carved the relationship of the people within Küba to one another and the land they now sit on has been completely dictated by the collective trauma they have suffered through, yet the installation itself is not imbued solely, or not even largely, by this history. The installation instead is one that shows a care for the individual, a care to get to know the person beyond the screen and the label ‘exiled.’ Ataman’s efforts are to humanize them to the foreign, Othered eye and to strip them from the stereotypes of outsider, alien, unwelcome. The trauma is accepted, and the work is crafted with a care for humanity to display a compassionate and real narrative. In turn, Hafez begins his work inspired by the trauma of losing a home, but his effort reflected into the work is heavily directed towards representing the beauty of the home lost. He displays a care for where he employs that yearning gaze, while communicating that loss of beauty and subsequently the trauma that comes with watching the slow but sure destruction of his home.

In terms of the handling of foreignization, Hatoum and Hafez display opposite views. Compared to Hatoum’s approach to the creation of a space characteristic of the unhomely with foreignness taking over the familiar setting, Hafez does not push to foreignize home; home has already been foreignized organically through the hand of man and violence. Even if one wishes to find some sense of familiarity, that sense is corrupted and painted over by the present and therefore tainted. Homebound can be discussed as an effort to make us, the viewer, into the Stranger so we realize our inherent foreignness and in-betweenness even in the most familiar places, while Hiraeth exhibits an effort to dig through that foreignness and to find the vestiges of the familiar to piece together what may not be defined as home. As the depiction of the foreign itself, Küba in turn dons an objectivity not unlike the characteristics of a documentary that lets the work itself display the reality of the foreign instead of being edited by prejudice.

At the crux of all these works, hand in hand with belonging, lies exile, and at the crux of this discussion lies the ways exile manifests in an artwork. Through the analysis until now, the consideration of exile in these three works (pleasantly) fall into a spectrum. Exile, not unlike in Hatoum’s Homebound, is ever-present in Küba too, but what sets them apart is the way Küba so directly welcomes this exile while Hatoum’s piece turns it into an entrapment. In Ataman, unbelonging has become the key to the creation of a family and a home to truly find belonging in, and the demand to stay in this newfound home is completely the opposite of the retrospective gaze. In contrast, Hatoum’s room is the materialization of unbelonging in its most unsettling way and the sense of containment inside (or exclusion from inside) is not wanted but despised (or dislocated). Against Ataman’s welcoming home and its potent national soul, it is the epitome of unwelcoming. In comparison to this dichotomy, if we turn to Hiraeth we find the middle ground: the vestiges of a welcoming home and the marks of its loss so clearly turning it undesirable. In this way, the three works can be set on a spectrum for belonging: Küba on one side as “belonging within exile,” Hiraeth occupying the middle as “(un)belonging through memory,” and Homebound on the other as “unbelonging inside/outside home.”

“Where do I belong?” in all its simplicity and untapped potential for complexity has spearheaded countless conversations and creations in our particular moment in time when the status of belonging and soulsearching is one of utter turbulence — it has likewise propelled this paper to understand how these three artists with their unique standings on exile discuss “the desire that individuals have to belong, a tenacious and fragile desire that is… increasingly performed in the knowledge of the impossibility of ever really and truly belonging, along with the fear that the stability of belonging and the sanctity of belongings are forever past” (Probyn 8). I proposed from the start that this question must be turned on its head, and I would argue now that Hatoum, Hafez, and Ataman indeed successfully do so, that all of them function with the same unease that unbelonging now is the sole norm of our existences only to transcend this fear. At first glance they all provide an answer to the eternal question of this paper: Homebound may suggest that maybe, you might be in that room, but belonging in it, being allowed to do so, is questionable no matter where ‘here’ is in a place imbued with a violent past and an unwelcoming present. Hiraeth in turn decides that once, you belonged somewhere, but it is forever unsure if that place will exist in that same way ever again, whether you left or not. Exile or not, Damascus has transformed into something that is un-home, perhaps (and subjectively) irrevocably so — but belonging is a personal matter, reconstructable, alive in memory. Küba gives a vehement yes, and the home in question is for once not the original but a newfound place more homely than before, a nation built from experiences and common unbelonging. At a closer glance, however, these answers are only one elementary facet of the work. They satisfy the audience if their wish is to simply find an acceptable answer and leave the exhibition fulfilled, but for the viewer hungry for a closer dissection, none of these works actually accept the question as is. Why ask “where do I belong?” when you have the chance to get out of the living room and choose another, when staying out and borderless is more comfortable than the entrapment inside; when your identity as a being is so much more complex than defined by a single scene or culture but instead is a palimpsest of places overlain and intermingled with one another; when a physical place is not always the answer? The question itself is lacking. What is far more intriguing than trying to find belonging in a place in hopes that it alone satisfies the need for home is to accept the way our concepts of home and borders have evolved to unrecognizable levels; that an existence can be borderless without being lost, a home can be an amalgamation of everything that has been gathered within oneself, and that (un)belonging can bring one to a community to resonate with. “Man is not without a homeland,” Leopold Senghor once spoke to a world conference, and Homebound, Hiraeth, and Küba only prove that there is a plethora of ways to search for and find a homeland.



1 Most influential to this paper are Irit Rogoff, Kobena Mercer, Claudette Lauzon, Mieke Bal, and Gayatri Gopinath, among whom only some can be discussed in the scope of the paper. Furthermore, other recent works take quantitative and qualitative approaches to the study of exile, displacement, and globalism. See Braziel and Mannur, Theorizing Diaspora (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003); Philipsen, Globalizing Contemporary Art (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2010); Dogramaci and Mersmann, Handbook of Art and Global Migration (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019); Rudakoff, Performing Exile: Foreign Bodies (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

2 Though I am noting here her national origins, it is important to also note that this simple declaration of her country of origin does not equate to her identity. Hatoum has explicitly expressed her views on the elusiveness of identity as well as the difficulty of or the lack of need to settle a definition of identity for an artist. She stated in an interview, “People often expect tidy definitions of otherness, as if identity is something fixed and easily definable... If you come from an embattled background there is often an expectation that your work should somehow articulate the struggle or represent the voice of the people” (Hatoum). This paper doesn’t intend to suggest in any way that an artist from any nation or culture is expected to make work to represent those peoples, but instead takes note of Hatoum’s background to demonstrate her own experience with the concepts of diaspora, belonging, and especially unbelonging which she closely works with and successfully complicates through her practice. I would also like to take this moment to acknowledge the Israel-Palestine conflict that currently (May 2021) is devastating many innocent Palestinian lives and state solidarity with Palestine in the face of clear and inhuman ethnic cleansing being covered up by religious or political excuses for the conflict.

3 Over the course of the Palestine war, more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes during what has come to be known as the 1948 Palestinian exodus, or Nakba (from Arabic, literally “disaster,” “catastrophe”).

4 The Lebanese Civil War broke out between Maronite Christians and the Palestinian Muslim population in the spring of 1975, lasting 15 years and resulting in an estimate of 120,000 fatalities. There have been many factors that contributed to the outbreak of the civil war: the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the displacement of Palestinian refugees to Lebanon in the 1948 and 1967 exoduses, and the Cold War had powerful effects on polarizing the climate until 1975 when fighting broke out between the two sides.

5 Coined from Ancient Greek νόστος (nóstos, “returning home”) + ἄλγος (álgos, “pain”) as a medical condition diagnosed for Swiss mercenaries fighting far from home to describe a psychosomatic manifestation prescribed to severe homesickness. In these artwork, similar to this older definition, it takes on a much deeper meaning than today’s English usage of the same word which in common tongue has lost its pain- and home-related components and instead has come to adopt a much lighter definition about missing a past time or place.

6 Coined from Ancient Greek οὐ (ou, “not, no”) + τόπος (tópos, “place, region”).

7 This disappearance of the lost home can be caused by violence such as war in the locality, a force that rips the fabric of the city/country and destroys what once was; even when the catastrophe is over, what one once saw as a home will sustain a completely new identity that has been marked and scarred by war and violence. This will be explored further in the discussion of trauma as a rupturing force.

8 For more on the discussion of contemporary diaspora artists, see Performing Exile: Foreign Bodies by Judith Rudakoff.

9 Philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s concept of the sublime object of ideology pulls from the Kantian notion of the sublime, Lacan’s theory of the Object, and the Marxist view of Ideology. For more on these concepts, please see Žižek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology (or for a more unconventional approach, please enjoy the movie The Pervert's Guide to Ideology).

10 For more on the concept of the Stranger, see Phenomenologies of the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality, and Julia Kristeva’s Strangers to Ourselves.

11 In Plato’s Sophist, it is the Stranger (Xenos) who questions “the traditional Parmenidean opposition between being and nonbeing, who challenges the power of the paternal Logos” (Rumble 303). The Xenos makes us question from the very beginning, to which we answer with a word of welcome (xenophilia) or rejection (xenophobia). Faced with the Xenos, we are compelled, expected, and sometimes forced to make a wager between hospitality and hostility.

12 For more on this dichotomy, see Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

13 The ouroboros reference that comes to mind is an interesting one to investigate. The term ouroboros comes from the Ancient Greek οὐροβόρος (ourobóros, “tail-devouring”), a compound of οὐρά (ourá, “tail”) + -βόρος (-bóros, “-devouring”), which is derived from the verb βιβρώσκω (bibrṓskō, “to eat up”); the term usually refers to a circular symbol depicting a snake or dragon devouring its own tail, used especially to represent the eternal cycle of destruction and rebirth. Here, considering the cyclic nature of the term and its visual relation to the cables Hatoum meanders around the room, an additional layer could be derived for the work. Its title, Homebound, suggests a local fixation, a ‘bound’ experience. Similarly, the cycle of the ouroboros is bound to itself, unable to break through its own path and thus forever binding itself into its fate (not dissimilar to a bleak Nietzschean eternal recurrence where the room becomes an ever-bound prison and ever-repeating experience of trauma).

14 It is a curious choice to have decided on a Welsh word which in itself carries a mostly unique meaning, at least one that is hard to find in an English context or translation. However, I must note my surprise that he did not choose the Turkic word hasret or its Arabic origin hasra (َح ْس َرة ), which translates in day-to-day use to a very similar longing that us speakers associate with homesickness.

15 Surveillance of citizens’ communications is not new in Syria. While it has certainly intensified in scale and scope, government surveillance has been a dominant theme in the country for decades even before digital communications. While the Syrian Constitution protects freedom of expression, and guarantees the privacy of all communications of the country’s citizens, the government does not fully acknowledge or obey these regulations. Between 1963-2011, Syria was ruled by a state of emergency law, severely restricting personal liberties and freedoms of expression. “The massive secret services organization established [in 1963] ensured that the red lines were clearly drawn, and those who crossed them were duly punished. As a result, Syria became the 177th country (out of 179 countries) on the Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 Press Freedom Index, and... [achieved] the lowest possible ratings on all criteria in political rights and civil liberties.” An example of mass public surveillance is from 2011, where through an Italian company the government installed surveillance equipment throughout Syria that would enable it to intercept every single email and internet communication that flows through the country. Despite leaks of such events and protests from the community, surveillance in Syria has stayed at an alarming scale that even led the public to develop techniques such as code languages to avoid the system (Bitar).

16 Surah Ar-Rahman is one of the rare points in the Qur’an where man is directly addressed. The surah (a chapter or section from the Qur’an) itself discusses the manifestations and fruits of Allah's attribute of mercy and grace, but the specific point Hafez draws on is the truth of the universe — no being except Allah is immortal and imperishable, and there are none who are not in need of Allah for survival as He is the omnipotent force controlling All. Hafez from this section takes the Arabic ك ُّل َم ْن َعلَ ْیھَا فَا ٍن , “Kullu man alaiha faan” (the Quran, 55:26).

17 This message can be read as reminiscent of the symbol of the ouroboros in Hatoum’s piece where a cycle of decay and eternality exists. While the ouroboros is forever stuck in a hell loop, logic dictates that one can imagine it is bound to end in its demise. The same way, the ayah seems to suggest that, not unlike the theory of entropy, the world around us spirals slowly but surely into something of a chaotic nature that will no matter what end up with all perishing.

18 In interviews about his work (Hafez, “Syrian Artist”; “Miniature”) and on his own website, Hafez discusses the very first inspiration for his works to be his homesickness when he was first exiled to U.S.A. and unable to go home due to visa issues and the eruption of war. So there is no argument against his intention to discuss the lost home where he once belonged to, but this does not solidify the work as only discussing the past home.

19 In May 27, 1960, the country’s military executed a long-planned coup d’état in hopes of restoring the failing democratic system of the young nation, thus purging the government of more than 4,000 officers and judicial staff, and administering trials on the Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and President Celal Bayar who were charged with a death sentence and life imprisonment respectively. In its aftermath, a new constitution was drawn up, and the political scene was dominated by military powers until the first free elections in 1965 (Güven and Ekiz, self translated).

20 A partial documentation of the work can be found in Küba: Journey against the Current, a public video:

21 Just this past year, Küba has found its way back to Turkish 7 o’clock news with its graffitied walls spelling out “Küba continues the #RESISTANCE,” “Küba is Motherland” and “Home is My Motherland.” As a neighborhood only ten minutes away from popular public transportation lines, Küba is in high demand of gentrification and renovation, which the residents strongly oppose for fear of losing neighborly relations and the cultural fabric and identity of Küba. The residents state they do not trust the government, nor do they need a capitalist reworking of their homes to live better — they simply wish for good conditions in their current ones (Sahin, self translated).

22 In Turkey, such slums become targets for complaints and distaste for how they ‘ruin the city’s pristine character, devalue its visual aesthetics, and lower its level of education, elegance and modern character. It is not uncommon to come across conversations that either state a hope for slums to be torn down so the city ‘can look better,’ or a distaste for running into or coexisting with the people from the slums.


See: Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. London, Monthly Review Press, 1971.

Ander, Heike, and Nadja Rottner, eds. Documenta 11_Platform 5: Exhibition Catalogue. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2002. Exhibition catalogue, Accessed 8 March 2021.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Revised ed., Verso, 1991.

Arrival City/Seeking Home: The Afghan Narrative. 8 Jun.-23 Jun. 2019, Commune Artist Colony. Karachi, Pakistan.

Ataman, Kutluğ. “Kutluğ Ataman on Küba.” Interview with The Artangel Trust, 2005, Accessed 5 Dec. 2020.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture, Routledge London, 1994.

Bitar, Karim. “Syria.” Syria | Global Information Society Watch, 2014,

Braziel, Jana Evans, and Anita Mannur, eds. Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader. Blackwell, 2010.

Brodsky, Joseph. “The Condition We Call Exile,” On Grief and Reason: Essays. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995.

Büsch, Thomas. “Küba: Journey against the Current.” InEnArt, Diyalog Derneǧi, 24 June 2006,

Czerniawski, Oskar. “Kutlug Ataman's Kuba Offers A Window Into A Community.” Culture24, Arts Council England, 23 Mar. 2005,

Ergang, Rober Reinhold. “Herder's Conception of Nationality.” Herder and the Foundations of German Nationalism, Columbia University Press, 1931, pp. 82–112.

Farahbakhsh, Alireza, and Rezvaneh Ranjbar. “Bhabha’s Notion of Unhomeliness in J. M. Coetzee’s Foe: A Postcolonial Reading.” International Journal on Studies in English Language and Literature, vol. 4, no. 7, July 2016, pp. 105–112., doi:

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Routledge, 2010.

Foucault, Michel, and Jay Miskowiec. “Of Other Spaces.” Diacritics, vol. 16, no. 1, 1986, pp. 22–27. JSTOR, Accessed 23 March 2021.

Freeden, Michael. “Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology?”. Political Studies Association, 1998.

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Dover Publication, Inc., 2015.

Freud, Sigmund, David McLintock, and Hugh Haughton. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Güner, Fisun. "No way home." New Statesman 137, no. 4901 (June 16, 2008): 42-43.

Güven, Buket, and Aynur Ekiz. “Türk Demokrasi Tarihinde Kara Bir Leke: 27 Mayıs.” Anadolu Ajansı, 26 May 2019, Accessed 26 November 2020.

Hafez, Mohamad. Hiraeth - Mohamad Hafez Art, 2016,

Hafez, Mohamad. “Miniature Architectural Scenes in Mohamad Hafez’s UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage Series with Collaborator Ahmed Badr.” The Daily Mini, DailyMini, Oct. 2017, Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

Hafez, Mohamad. “Syrian Artist Mohamad Hafez Embodies Devastation, Desolation Of Syrian Conflict.” Interview by Deborah Becker. Radio Boston, Boston, MA, April 20, 2017, Accessed 16 Feb 2021.

Hall, Stuart. “Whose Heritage?: Un‐Settling ‘the Heritage’, Re‐Imagining the Post‐Nation”, Third Text, vol. 13, no. 49, 1999, pp. 3–13., doi:10.1080/09528829908576818.

Hatoum, Mona. “Mona Hatoum by Janine Antoni.” Interview by Janine Antoni. Bomb Magazine, 1 Apr. 1998, Accessed 03 Feb 2021.

Hatoum, Mona. Homebound. 8 Jun.-15 Sep. 2002, Documenta 11, Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany.

Haq, Nav. “Kutlug Ataman.” Bidoun, Bidoun Projects, 1 Oct. 2005,

Herder, Johann Gottfried. Against Pure Reason: Writings on Religion, Language, and History. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005.

Hirschberger, Gilad. “Collective Trauma and the Social Construction of Meaning.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 9, no. 1441, 10 Aug. 2018, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01441.

How the light gets in. 7 Sep.-8 Dec. 2019, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, New York.

Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Cornell University Press, 2014.

Khan, Nimra. “EXHIBITION: STORY OF DISPLACEMENT.” Dawn, Dawn Media Group, 23 June 2019,

Kristeva, Julia. Strangers to Ourselves. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia University Press, 1999.

“Kutluğ Ataman - Küba.” Artangel, The Artangel Trust, 2006,

“Küba: Journey against the Current.” Vimeo, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Feb. 2006,

Lauzon, Claudette. The Unmaking of Home in Contemporary Art, University of Toronto Press, 2017.

Linden, Gracie. “The Chilling, Anxious World of Mona Hatoum.” Hyperallergic, 19 Aug. 2016,

Marchevska, Elena. “Belonging and Absence: Resisting the Division.” Performing Exile: Foreign Bodies, edited by Judith Rudakoff, Intellect, Bristol, UK; Chicago, USA, 2017, pp. 179-195. JSTOR, Accessed 4 Apr. 2021.

Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Cultural Critique, no. 31, 1995, pp. 83–109., doi:10.2307/1354446.

Meerzon, Yana. “On the Paradigms of Banishment, Displacement, and Free Choice.” Performing Exile: Foreign Bodies, edited by Judith Rudakoff, Intellect, Bristol, UK; Chicago, USA, 2017, pp. 17–36. JSTOR, Accessed 3 May. 2021.

“Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma,” The Menil Collection, Youtube, 2017.

“Mona Hatoum at Tate Modern.” ArtFundUK, Youtube, 2016,

Probyn, Elspeth. Outside Belongings. London: Routledge, 2015.

Rogoff, Irit. Terra Infirma: Geography's Visual Culture. Taylor and Francis, 2013.

Rumble, Vanessa. “Progress in Spirit: Freud and Kristeva on the Uncanny.” Phenomenologies of the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality, edited by Richard Kearney and Kascha Semonovitch, Fordham University Press, 2011, pp. 298–327.

Saad, Hwaida, and Rick Gladstone. “Minaret on a Storied Syrian Mosque Falls.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Apr. 2013,

Said, Edward. "The Art of Displacement: Mona Hatoum’s Logic of Irreconcilables." Mona Hatoum: The Entire World as a Foreign Land (2000): 8-18.

Şahin, Uğur. “Metrobüse 10 Dakikalık 'Küba'da Dönüşüme Vize: 'Küba' Evimiz Direniş Işimiz.” trans. by the author. BirGün, Birgün Gazetesi, 4 Oct. 2020,

Sbitti, Roxanne. “Mona Hatoum: Home and Identity, from Figure to Frame and from Frame to Figure.” Manjm Haifa Culture Lab, Manjm Haifa Culture Lab, 19 Feb. 2018,

Searle, Adrian. “Mona Hatoum Review – Electrified, If Not Always Electrifying.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 3 May 2016,

Stamatiou, Evi. “Caryatid Unplugged: A Cabaret on Performing and Negotiating Belonging and Otherness in Exile.” Performing Exile: Foreign Bodies, edited by Judith Rudakoff, Intellect, Bristol, UK; Chicago, USA, 2017, pp. 197–216. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Apr. 2021.

Suchin, Peter. “Kutlug Ataman.” Frieze, Frieze, 2006,

The Time. The Place. Contemporary Art from the Collection. 4 Nov. 2017- 22 Apr. 2018, Henry Art Gallery, Faye G. Allen Center for the Arts, Seattle, Washington.

Van den Bergh, Godfried van Benthem. “Herder and the Idea of a Nation.” Human Figurations, vol. 7, no. 1, May 2018,

Villarreal, Alexandra. “Mohamad Hafez: How He Uses Artwork to Celebrate Syria's Past.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Nov. 2018,

“Withered by War, Rose That Gave Damascus Its Name Is Dying.” Hindustan Times, 17 May 2016,

Žižek, Slavoj. “Enjoy Your Nation as Yourself!” Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology, Duke University Press, 1993, pp. 200–211.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. P Guide Productions, 2012.

Žižek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso, 1989.

“8th International Istanbul Biennial.” İstanbul Kültür Sanat Vakfı IKSV,

bottom of page