my light is your light...
The Hermitage Amsterdam is at the heart of Amsterdam. Here, the city is alive with laughter, with the honking of cars and the exciting rings of passing trams. The river flows like a silver ribbon under the sparkling Skinny Bridge, the water washing up against the piers of the dock. It’s here that you arrive with your luggage. A bag slides from your shoulder while another is secured tightly to your back, an invisible backpack of unresol- ved issues that makes your head hang low.
my light is your light... tells the story of the uncertainty of being. The six life-sized figures made of curved neon tubes stand on a dock as though they have just arrived from far away. They are refugees, conceived by artist alaa minawi (indeed, without capitals). minawi is, like his father and grandfather, a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon.
The use of neon lights in art often refers to the way that mass media conveys messages. American artist Bruce Nauman, for example, made numerous works of profound or nonsen- sical statements in a variety of appealing colors and shapes that flicker on and off (see the banal but enchanting 1985 work, Seven Figures at the Stedelijk Museum). Is it art or Times Square kitsch? Neverthe- less, you will be drawn to it, like a mosquito to a UV lamp.
alaa minawi has chosen to work with neon for a very different reason. Neon shines the same soft, serene light as a fugitive, he says. According to the artist, people who have been forced to leave their homes exude a soft, gentle glow. His sculptures are made of white neon tubes that distri- bute an extremely delicate and almost silky substance, especially in the evenings.
These fragile light sources have another function. Although bent to resemble the shapes of human figures, you can only see their contours. They are ultimately hollow, much like a refugee, says minawi, someone who has not only left behind all his possessions but also his past and his image of the future. With only those things that he can carry on his shoulders, the refugee takes the risk to flee to a new country to start a new life; a new life where everything can be filled once again.
my light is your light... is a temporary monument for the displaced in a city known for being welcoming and tolerant. The group sculpture exudes sadness, the figures’ heads bent and shoulders hunched over. But there is also an unmistaka- ble optimism and borderless confidence in the future about them. Just take a look at the smallest neon figure, most likely a child, leading the others with his head held high. He, too, has had to leave everything behind. And there he stands. To his left, the infectious hustle and bustle of the city, and to his right, the beautiful Skinny Bridge. Just a few more steps and they will have arrived.
Light designer and artist
alaa minawi is a visual artist who studied Communication Arts at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Since 2006 he has worked in film, photography and theatre in both the Arabic world and in the USA. alaa minawi currently works in Lebanon as a lighting designer and writer. Apart from his main occupation, he is an interpreter for Iraqi, Syrian, and Sudanese refugees seeking asylum in the United States.