Opening May 21st 2010 at Atlantic Station in Atlanta, GA, “the son of a duck is a floater” paired the words of two artists, Serene Al-Kawas and Gabrielle Sirkin. As the artists explain, the works “explore the notions of representation, creating new approaches for examining ourselves in a global society.” While Al-Kawas’s and Sirkin’s approaches are grounded in photography, each experiments with the medium to tackle different aspects of identity in a globalized world. Al-Kawas’s work combines portraits of Arab-Americans with handwritten text while Sirkin’s work explores her relation to memory, photography and friendships by fusing the medium with text, sculpture and video.
The exhibition space at Atlantic Station was split into two floors with Al-Kawas’s work on the first and Sirkin’s work on the second. Upon entering the space, Al-Kawas’s black and white photographs adorn the white walls paired with black painted text. Each photograph is an environmental portrait of an Arab. Al-Kawas commented that the work tries to explore the space in between what it means to be Arab and what it means to be American. According to Al-Kawas, since September 11th, 2001 and even prior to the event, Arab and American identities have become diametrically opposed. In order to be American, a person cannot be Arab and vice-versa. To show this tension between perception and reality, the painted text helps the viewer understand the permutations of Arab and American identity. On the main wall of the first floor, Al-Kawas wrote the title of the exhibition in English; from there, she mutated the text finally transposing and transforming it into the Arabic language. As the text mutates back and forth from English to Arabic, the photographs seem to portray the same complications of identity from American to Arab, finally arriving at the conclusion of Arab-American.
On the second floor Sirkin’s work takes a more playful approach to the troubles of identity. According to Sirkin new technologies of photography, specifically digital, left her feeling disconnected from the photographs, as if the process of taking digital photographs did not capture the moment but created an event. Sirkin seems to draw a parallel between the act of digital photography and Polaroid photography. Polaroid has been called the “party camera,” but Sirkin points to the same qualities in digital: instant gratification by looking at the LCD screen on the back of the camera. Instead of unique objects like the Polaroid, the digital process creates a nebulous presence in which there is no object to identify the moment. Sirkin tries to extract these moments from their ethereal realm by creating sculptural pieces using wood and resin with the photographs and combining them with text that recalls the mood or feeling at the time of the photograph.
“[T]he son of a duck is a floater” comes from an Arabic phrase which loosely translates to “the apple does not fall far from the tree.” The two artists exhibit this quality by drawing from personal experience and identity that flows into and drives the work. To view more of their work or to get more information about the show and the artists visit their websites. Serene Al-Kawas and Gabrielle Sirkin .