Current Issue #488

Artist Profile: Elyas Alavi's daydreams of displacement and love

Artist Profile: Elyas Alavi's daydreams of displacement and love

Presenting the co-commissioned project Daydreamer Wolf as part of Melbourne’s Next Wave Festival, Adelaide-based artist Elyas Alavi’s work continues his exploration into notions around displacement, memory, migration and identity.

Daydreamer Wolf demonstrates the breadth of Alavi’s practice as he presents new work incorporating painting, video projection, installation and performance collaborations across different artforms — visual art, music, poetry and performance. The work is featured at two venues — St Heliers Street Gallery at the Abbotsford Convent arts precinct and Chapter House Lane Gallery in Melbourne’s CBD.

Alavi’s works draw on his personal experiences of being a Hazara refugee. For example one of the works, titled Still together, is based on conversations with his family who all live in different countries around the world.

“For me, it’s about how we love each other so much but the entire family hasn’t been all together for the last 27 years,” Alavi says. “It’s just like a normal conversation, they didn’t know I recorded it, I wanted it to be natural.”

Elyas Alavi, We Die so That (video still.)

Another video work titled, We Die so That, is based on footage he took two years ago when he travelled to Kabul. While he was there he participated in a peaceful protest with the ethnic group, Hazara. A bomb exploded during the protest. Nearly 90 people were injured or killed during the blast but the incident didn’t receive much coverage.

Alavi filmed before and after the explosion with most of the video work focusing on the search to find out what happened to a young man who was from the same village in Afghanistan as Alavi and who went missing following the explosion. It turns out he was one of the victims.

Also featured is the 113 series of paintings which were inspired by the same event. Alavi has painted 113 portraits of people who belong to the ethnic group, some of whom died that day, some survived and some are from other places. He uses glass as the surface of the paintings linking it to the experience of the bomb going off around him.

Elyas Alavi, from 113 series, 2017-2018, (detail), 113 paintings on glass sheets, 35×25cm. Photo: Grant Hancock

The exhibition also features a neon work which says, Vatan Kojast?, which means “what is homeland?” in Farsi. The text is written in blue to show sadness and is also symbolic of the refugees who couldn’t reach the places they wanted to go, especially those who have drowned in the ocean.

Alongside the neon piece are two paintings of the covers of newspapers referencing the big wave of migration that happened two years ago when millions of people tried to flee to Europe. “The paintings are about how the life of refugees is like the life of a newspaper,” Alavi says. “It is important and people take notice only for a very short time, for a day or a week and then it’s forgotten.”

Following on from the Next Wave Festival Daydreamer Wolf will be reconfigured and shown at Firstdraft in Sydney in late 2018 and Ace Open, Adelaide in early 2019.

2018 Next Wave Festival
Thursday, May 3 to Sunday, May 20

Header image: Elyas Alavi in studio. Photo: Sam Roberts

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