In Lieu of What Was

Portikus, Frankfurt 

July 20 – Sept 8, 2019 

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Press Release

Visitors will encounter a series of sculptures cast from molds used to fabricate the public drinking fountains that have become a distinctive aspect of the urban landscape of the Arabian Gulf. The fountains (and, in turn, Farid’s sculptures) follow the forms of various vessels that have been used to carry and store water, from a traditional clay pot to the now-ubiquitous plastic bottle. The vessels were chosen by the artist in thinking about one’s relationship to water in the desert, and the shifting ideas surrounding its scarcity that have accompanied the development of the oil-centered industry since the 1930s.

The exhibition is the starting point of a long-term investigation between the artist, Portikus and Städelschule that examines life in the Anthropocene and the economic determinants for the exploitation of natural resources. Fed by desalination plants, the drinking fountains function as contemporary stand-ins to village wells and other communal water sources, and as a tokenistic remembrance of the past. As a whole, In Lieu of What Was considers the use of water as a political tool throughout the region; for example, its role in the draining of the marshlands of Southern Iraq, the conservation and management of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers across national borders, and the controlled retention of water from people and animals as a form of forced deportation.

Alia Farid’s artistic practice is characterized by an interest in political, cultural and economic phenomena as well as their influences on the environment. Subjects or themes of investigation look at modernity in Latin America and the Middle East. Farid’s works tell of these respective cultures, traditions and above all the cultural influences from outside, the power of politics and the urge for modernization. Her work is an artistic response to the failed attempts at mirroring western constructs through a modernization project that simultaneously examines issues surrounding representation in these contexts. Narratives are created by looking at peripheral stories or people, who she usually encounters during her research. They reflect the regions whose borders, politics, economics and ecology are in permanent turmoil.


Courtesy of Alia Farid
Photo by Diana Pfammatter.

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