Sama Alshaibi
“Silsila” project statement
Silsila (Arabic for “link”) re-traces history through diary, documentary and magical realism. From 2009-2016, I have explored and documented fifteen predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East, North Africa and the Maldives islands in Southeast Asia. It was inspired by the great 14th century Moroccan traveler Ibn Batutta, who traveled 75,000 miles after initially setting out to perform Islam’s compulsory Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. His meticulous notes were made over thirty years of traveling – a scientific approach to recording observations, insights and lessons all grounded in his Islamic faith that were later transcribed by a young writer, and which became al-Rihla, The Travels. His book is considered the foundation of travel-writing, and the birth of the genre of the travelogue. Set in a post-colonial context, Silsila advances global pressing ecological and environmental challenges, while aesthetically and historically alluding to the geographic allure of the MENA region both rich and barren in natural resources and antiquity. Geometric patterning and symmetry reference the formal qualities of Islamic art, connecting the individual to the divine. By capturing my journey and performances in the significant deserts and endangered water sources/oasis of the landscape from the Islamic world, and visually referencing the spaces maliciously documented in al-Rihla, I sought to unearth a historical story of continuity, community and perseverance. It serves as a visual resistance to the cultural productions from and about the region that selectively depicts contemporary narratives of fragmentation, oppression, and war. Today, the political refugees from the Global South are the climate migrants of tomorrow, but at a much higher numerical scale and without geographic distinction. Silsila focuses on our geographic voice and our search connection with each other as interdependent peoples and nations plagued by an unthinkable future.
Sama Alshaibi’s photography, video and installations explore spaces of conflict and the power struggles that arise in the aftermath of war and exile. Drawing from her experiences as a Palestinian-Iraqi refugee, and now naturalized US citizen, she uses her body as an allegorical site that makes the byproducts of such struggles visible. Alshaibi’s monograph, “Sand Rushes In” (New York: Aperture, 2015) presents her “Silsila” series, which probes the human dimensions of migration, borders, and environmental demise. “Silsila” was exhibited at the 55th Venice Biennale, Honolulu Biennial, Qalandia International Biennial, Marta Herford Museum of Art (Germany) and solo exhibitions at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (AZ, 2016), and the Johnson Museum of Art (Cornell University, NY, 2017). Alshaibi has also exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), Bronx Museum (NYC), Arab American National Museum (Michigan), FotoFest Biennial (Houston), Tucson Museum of Art (Tucson), Museum De Wieger (Netherlands), HilgerBROTKunsthalle (Vienna), CCS Bard Hessel Museum & Galleries (Bard College, NYC), Headlands Center for the Arts (California), Institut Du Monde Arabe (Paris), Maraya Art Center (UAE), Ayyam Gallery (London/Dubai), the Thessaloniki International Film Festival (Greece), the 24th Instants Video Festival (Mexico and France) and DOKUFEST (Kosovo). Alshaibi received a Fulbright Fellowship to Palestine (2014-2015) as part of a residency at the Palestine Museum in Ramallah. Sama Alshaibi was named the University of Arizona’s ‘1885 Distinguished Scholar’, where she is Co-Chair and Professor of Photography/Video.