With his captivating digital collages, Ahmed ElKhalidi explores his family’s journey from Jordan to Australia.
One of the more compelling pictures in Ahmed ElKhalidi’s upcoming exhibition Swapped at Birth, showing at The Mill on Angas Street from Tuesday, February 12 to Wednesday, February 23, uses, as its central image, an old photograph of the figure of a woman. In ElKhalidi’s digital collage, he obscures her face with a yellow triangle, gives her a pair of dormant wings, and places her in what appears to be war-torn country. One of her fingers casts a narrow spotlight that illuminates the path ahead.
“For me, the woman is my mother,” says ElKhalidi, a Palestinian-born, Adelaide-based graphic designer and artist who first immigrated from Jordan to Australia 14 years ago.
“When my wife and I came to Australia, we were making a lifestyle choice but she, my mother, never made a choice. She left her country because of war.”
Swapped at Birth, an exhibition that first showed at Jacaranda Images gallery in Amman (Jordan) last year, chronicles ElKhalidi’s own story as an immigrant. He has used digital collage – a medium whose fragmented form seems congruent with the nature of the immigrant experience – to align images from his past and present. The results are, in the best possible sense, confounding. Viewers will see photographs of familiar places such as Adelaide Railway Station or St Peter’s Cathedral, set against the unfamiliar – a child’s toy, or Farsi script obscuring English words. Two far apart worlds colliding.
“I wish I could say that home was a place that could be found,” he says. “Home is here and it’s also there and it’s everywhere else that I’ve lived and travelled. I think home is in my head.”
As an artist, ElKhalidi attempts to forge a visual representation of home, a surreal place conjured from the realm of memory and dream. Although his work is born out of personal reflection on his family’s experience, he hopes it touches on universal themes.
“My 10-year-old daughter was born here,” he says, “she understands both cultures and has an awareness of the differences. She has travelled to Jordan and the Middle East, and to Asia on the journey over. She also already knows that people are more the same than they are different.”
The themes in Swapped at Birth are the forefront of the zeitgeist right now. At the time of writing, Donald Trump is holding his government hostage over a maximum-security wall, while our own prime minister smugly displays a small statue of a boat inscribed with the words ‘I Stopped These’ in pride of place in his office. And yet the number of forcibly displaced people continues to rise to staggering heights. ElKhalidi’s exhibition gives an inner perspective on immigration that is too often muffled by the 24-7 news cycle.
Ahmed ElKhalidi: Swapped at Birth
The Mill, 154 Angas Street
Tuesday, February 12 to Wednesday, February 23