This is not me: Enduring Syria’s War is an exhibition by artist Bridgette Auger currently on view at NYU’s Tisch Gallery in New York. The endurance that B. Auger chose for the title of her work is not the one that we might immediately think about. In fact, in the last article I wrote about the Syrian revolutionary war, I was afraid that the topic and the images I was writing about might be too spectacular and therefore potentially misleading in the way we can approach the conflict from abroad. This assuredly won’t be the case with B. Auger as the two young Syrian men, Husan and Mohamad, she took for object of her work (photographs and interviews) are not in Syria: one is in Beirut and the other, in Germany. What the sensitive work of this exhibition manages to address, is the endurance of the war that one has to suffer when far away from it. The photographs, associated with pieces of monologues that must be trotting out continuously in the two protagonists’ minds, express the anguished dilemma that they have to deal with: staying safe out of the country like their families would like them to be, or going back to Syria to be with their friends and relatives.
This dilemma reminds me of the one exposed by Jean-Paul Sartre in his lecture Existentialism is a Humanism. Sartre explains the choice that one of his student were confronted to during the Second World War: he could either stay home to take care of his sick mother or enter into resistance against the Nazis with the Free French Forces. Sartre adds that this choice is particular as one possibility will insure some immediate comfort to one person while the other might bring much greater effects but in less immediate and guaranteed conditions.
In the case of these two young men, the possibility of fighting the war is only briefly evoked, the thing that they primarily feel guilty about is that they are simply not there, in Syria. Here lies the whole difficulty of the necessary choice we have to do about the geographical location of our body: what might appear to us as neutral is the essence of all politics. Through their own words, they express the geographical dimension to their problem:
I feel so lost. I don’t know what I want to do. Do I want to stay here? Do I want to go back?
I’ve spent most of my time in this room. Sigh.
Sometimes I talk with myself.
It is really I don’t have another choice, but I always have the choice to go back to my country my city. It is very dangerous because there is a war, I will not fight, I will go to free areas, sit with my, staying with my friends, doing something I don’t know what is it.
But khalas I don’t have any other choice I can’t stay in Beirut.
The title of the exhibition, This is not Me comes from one of the interviews in which Husam looks at the way his personality has been affected with this tortuous choice he has to make:
Because I am lost. I am lost in all aspects. I am lost culturally, I’m lost regarding my faith.
I’m not angry. I am desperate. I am not angry.
I always try to convince myself that I am so strong and that I can overcome it like this but from inside I am, I am not doing well. I am not happy with what is going on and I am not happy with how I react to this unbelievably bad circumstances but still my reaction is so weird.
I would never react the way I am reacting now.
This is not me.
Along the lines of Husam and Mohamad, we read their distress confronted to this difficult choice. However, humans are not Buridan’s ass that cannot choose between the hay and the water when equally hungry and thirsty. The geographical locations of Husam and Mohamad’s bodies materialize the choice that they are doing on a daily basis. The fact that there is no “correct” answer to this choice is terrifying and probably only those who had to experience similar situation can really fathom the state of mind that it triggers.
Discover more work by Bridgette Auger on her website.