ArtsExhibitionsReview

‘In Your Dreams’ exposes global nightmares

Inequality has ballooned to “extreme levels” in some countries, according to the World Inequality Report published in December 2017 by French economist Thomas Piketty. Unless there is globally coordinated political action, he says, the wealth gap will continue to grow.

Marques Dos Santos and Zena from the Denizens of Brussels series, 2015 (Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Brussels) Image: Andres Serrano
Marques Dos Santos and Zena from the Denizens of Brussels series, 2015 (Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Brussels) Image: Andres Serrano

People less affected by this disparity can choose to turn away when confronted with the harsh realities faced by those who suffer more from it.

Not so the 14 international photographers and photo-media artists whose work features in In Your Dreams showing at UNSW Galleries, Paddington, until April 7.

They look unflinchingly into the eyes of the people whose health, homelands, livelihoods and opportunities have been threatened or lost because the gap has widened. They show us place after place across the world where the actions of those who have wealth and power are destroying the fortunes of those who do not.

The work of Victorian photographer and Lumina collective member, Jessie Boylan, for example, examines how nuclear fallout devastated communities and homelands in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.

Boylan shot her photos on a visit to Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, for Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day in 2014.

Sixty years before this, the nuclear bomb tested by the United States, which contaminated the Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, and Utrik atolls, was 1000 times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Majura Atoll, Marshall Islands, on Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day in 2014. Image: Jessie Boylan.

Majura Atoll, Marshall Islands, on Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day in 2014. Image: Jessie Boylan.

“The local Marshallese were evacuated to other atolls and have been unable to return home since,” she writes. “Many inhabitants have suffered ongoing illnesses as a result of radioactive fallout and many remember a white powder falling from the sky, which, because they thought it was soap or shampoo they rubbed in their hair and bodies.”

French photographer Samuel Gratacap’s stark depictions of a refugee camp in Choucha in Tunisia explore the serious global issue of migration.

From July 2012, Gratacap spent a year in the camp, which hosted several hundred thousand refugees in transit during the Libyan civil war and the NATO attacks.

“To truly understand what the refugees dealt with while they waited you need to stay and wait yourself” he said in an interview in lens culture.

Severe sandstorms lash a man in Choucha refugee camp, Tunisia. Image: Samuel Gratacap, Empire, refugee camp of Choucha, Tunisia, 2012–14 (Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Les filles du calvaire, Paris)

Severe sandstorms lash a man in Choucha refugee camp, Tunisia. Image: Samuel Gratacap, Empire, refugee camp of Choucha, Tunisia, 2012–14 (Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Les filles du calvaire, Paris)

“The numerous images of the people with their faces covered were actually taken late, during some severe sandstorms. One thing that is not necessarily obvious from my still photographs is that the wind never fades. It damages the tents, whips sand around and gets into everything: the food, the tents, the folds of people’s clothes …”

The sandstorms and heat are so palpable in Gratacap’s work I’m still fretting about displaced communities forced to face similarly punishing weather in future as the impact from climate change increases.

 In Your Dreams is a fascinating exhibition and the curators and artists from Australia, Bangladesh, China, France, Greece, Jordan, Mexico, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, South Africa and the US who worked to bring it together should be applauded for their creativity and courage.

They invite us to look more deeply at the thwarted dreams and nightmares of those who have less than us – and not turn away.

 

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