‘Atlas Unlimited: Acts VII-X,’ the latest in a transformative series about migration, borders and identity, is on display through November 3.
When artists Karthik Pandian and Andros Zins-Browne began a residency in Brussels in 2017, to continue their ongoing work, they met Zakaria Almoutlak, a Syrian sculptor living in the city. Learning about Almoutlak’s work and experiences led to the collaborative project Atlas Unlimited, a series that has unfolded over multiple exhibitions and multiple institutions. Each installation traces “the banalities and atrocities” of Almoutlak’s life in order to examine themes of migration, borders, and identity. The latest installment, Atlas Unlimited: Acts VII-X, will be held at the 80 Washington Square East gallery, where it will be on display through November 3.
Acts I-III saw Almoutlak sculpt a camel from limestone and then break it, engendering a powerful release for all who witnessed the moment. “He described it as one of the first moments when he was energetically connected to himself again,” said Pandian. The following installation included an expert who was brought in to reassemble the sculpture without any instruction.
“There’s a recursive kind of breaking apart and coming together,” said Pandian about the series as a whole. “It’s a kind of allegory about what happens when you lose complete touch with your home. When you’re no longer able to go home, there is something that breaks apart in you. You can be put back together, but those cracks will always be there.”
Acts VII-X continue that cycle. The reassembled camel will be disintegrated into a material ripe for creating frescos. “There is a kind of transubstantiation that’s happening,” explained Pandian. “The sculpture is changing, but in a way to become itself again.”
Adding to the sculptures on display, Pandian and Zins-Browne needed to find a way to make Almoutlak present once his Visa application to the U.S. was denied. Two singers voice threads from Almoutlak’s life in the final gallery room at 80 Washington Square East. “There was so much text that we generated in the earlier acts that we really felt like we wanted to give it another voice and a different type of quality of voice,” said Zins-Browne. “A different poetic.”
Aliana de la Guardia and Ganavaya Doraiswamy incorporate karnātik, operatic and pop vocal traditions into their performance. "His stories have made their way to the U.S. and they make their way into these other voices that are mediating him,” said Zins-Browne. The effect is haunting, as strands of Almoutlak’s life — both the mundane and the momentous — hang side by side. “It’s a 64-hour duet over the course of a month,” explained Pandian. “The two bodies point to his absence. The two pointing to who is not there, who is not allowed to be there.”
Atlas Unlimited: Acts VII-X will be held Thursday-Saturday from 4-8 p.m. and Sunday from 2-6 p.m. through November 3 at 80 Washington Square East. The gallery will also hold a talk with art scholars Aruna D'Souza and Matthew Jesse Jackson on October 17 at 7 p.m. Attendance is free and open to the public.
Atlas Unlimited: Acts VII-X is made possible by the generous support of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the Cheswatyr Foundation.
About 80 Washington Square East (@80WSE)
Founded in 1974, NYU's 80 Washington Square East is a not-for-profit gallery presenting contemporary and historical exhibitions, under the curatorial direction of Nicola Lees.
Recent shows include Louise Lawler, Lutz Bacher, Dora Budor, Harun Farocki, Nina Beier and John Miller, Diamond Stingily, Patricia L. Boyd, Peter Gidal, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Duane Linklater. The gallery exhibits in two further locations, at Broadway Windows (Broadway and East 10th Street), and Washington Square Windows (next to the gallery), both on view 24/7.
80 Washington Square East's regular hours are Wednesday to Saturday, 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. For more information, please visit https://research.steinhardt.nyu.edu/80wse/