Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Exploring Relationships between Citizens and State; Borders and Barriers Define a New Exhibition at Baltic. on Her First Visit to the Region, Artist Bani Abidi Opens Up to BARBARA HODGSON about Her Debut Solo Show

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Exploring Relationships between Citizens and State; Borders and Barriers Define a New Exhibition at Baltic. on Her First Visit to the Region, Artist Bani Abidi Opens Up to BARBARA HODGSON about Her Debut Solo Show

Article excerpt

Byline: BARBARA HODGSON

BANI Abidi happily agrees that this is a pretty good time to be making a debut. The Pakistani artist's exhibition at Baltic is her first solo public show in the UK and - coming slap bang in the middle of the gallery hosting the Turner Prize -- she's delighted she'll be sharing in the extra footfall.

Visitors flocking to see the finalists' work ahead of Monday's announcement of the winner will find Bani's Section Yellow on the ground floor.

It's a mix of film, photographs and a handful of drawings on the theme of waiting, barriers, borders and bureaucracy with links that flow beautifully when explained by the artist herself.

At first glance, her film The Distance - a mix of outdoor and interior scenes of people patiently waiting - has no obvious connection to the set of the photographs on the adjacent wall. Shown on a loop, it's a film with no ending. You wonder what the people are waiting for, then find yourself waiting too.

The nearby images, suggesting seascapes or landscapes in pretty blues, are actually of folders containing papers which on closer inspection are the same as those in the hands of the people in the film, forming orderly queues before the security scanners and guards.

And each is in essence a biography of someone's life as we come to realise those all-important files are being carried to a visa office.

"I've always been interested in the relationship between civilised society and the state," explains Bani.

"People and power, the resilience of people, their patience. Once I'd done the film, I wanted to pick out details and photographed the folders."

And their seascape colours suggest horizons, borders and escape to other shores, she says.

The sounds in Bani's video - those of the outdoors and the cold, more intimidating noises of bureaucracy, air con, tannoys and sharp echoing footsteps of the interior waiting room - were recorded in her homeland of India but will be familiar to travellers everywhere.

"You need a visa for everything," says Bani who does a lot of travelling herself, with her work shown internationally. Born in Karachi - she comes from a creative family; her brother is an architect and her uncle a writer - she went to art school at 18 then did her Masters in the US. Now 40 and married to an Indian man, she lives in Delhi.

The issue of migration, she says, "is a story of human tragedy; everyone is fearful.

"The state is fearful of those coming in; the people are fearful about where they're going to."

Worry is etched on the face of one elderly man (an actor from the film) who Ban, struck by his look, picked out to photograph, passport photo-style. The picture is shown alongside an image of a suitcase - both a symbol of something he's carried with him all his life and, in the eyes of others, containing a possible threat. …

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