On Identity, Desert & Borders

If you feel daunted this weekend, and in need of a bit of distance and elevation after today’s US elections results…

If the desert makes you feel like your actions, your values matter, and will prevail one day, though you may understandingly feel powerless today.

If you believe that art has a soothing effect because its essence rests with the idea that identity itself may evolve for the best, just like borders and languages do. For the best, not against your being.

Then head to Al Quoz, unit 84, and let me know how Richard Hoglund’s ‘Desert Octave’ paintings made you feel… Or simply read along.



Days like today, I can’t breathe properly. I felt torn in the same way last June when I felt like London, this cherished city where I had grown into an urban explorer and semi-poet, where I had friends from all over the world who fueled my projects and soul, was disappearing on me. With Brexit London was no longer that place of openness, that place of self-discovery through otherness, a place I loved, a place that had shaped me into who I am today. It was no longer mine. It was a foreign country like any other.

Days like today, I am dumbfounded albeit not particularly surprised. Populism and demagoguery have long proven they could win people over more easily than a thorough and subtle analysis would. 2016 is no different. It even feels like a year of borders, and as such, like a year of self-limitation. 

I am no idealist. I believe a nation ought to have policies that allow for the fruitful and constructive integration of migrants, at a pace that protects a given national identity whilst constantly allowing it to reshape itself. I believe that regulations help migrants and local residents make the most of that self-improvement through otherness. But when the White House resident-to-be blames all of our systems’ flaws on migrants, and makes it to the most powerful office in the world using such accusations, I can’t help but get that tightness in my chest.


capture-decran-2016-11-09-a-23-25-22Our quest for identity has failed us. Too many of us believe identity has to be inflexible to be strong. As steel forged as Vernet’s sculptures were. Too many of us believe that constantly redefining it equates to not knowing who you are. I believe in the exact opposite.

If you look closely though, these metal sculptures  may also strike you as incomplete. If not confronted to otherness, structure melts away, and so does our  power of creation and hope of turning into the best, most productive, and also kindest versions of ourselves. I see identity as past and future combined. Foundations and path at once. A path to Oneness, admittedly.

A friend of mine told me a few hours ago that she felt selfish for wanting to bring a second child into this world after today’s news. A world of borders and self-limitation she meant. A world in which this failed quest for a past-oriented and uncompromising identity leads us away from Oneness. I couldn’t disagree more.


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I believe our power as political activists will always be limited by the forces we have no control over, and the challenges of protest votes in the democracies we come from. But I do not think we should let this bring about a feeling of powerlessness or turn us into cynics. Our task as true activists is not to worry about such forces, since they exist, about the implications of this election for the situation in Syria, since Trump has been elected, or   about whether or not he will remain a sexist President, because he already is. I believe our task as true activists is to raise kids who will embody a vision of identity that lead to Oneness, not to fear and hatred. Kids who will one day in their every action, in their every breath, try to enforce this vision. Noisette is not born yet, and I am hopeful.


I did not know last weekend when I stared at the bone dust and Sahara sand paintings the Custot Gallery so magically arranged with Vernet’s steel-forged sculptures that I would look over and over at these paintings today, drawing on their meaning and beauty to feel hopeful.

I did not know last weekend when I stared at laces of pastel-tinted charcoal, and emulsions of fire-colored acrylic on linen materials, that I would praise them for the hope they provided, as well as for what they meant.

Richard Höglund painted this series using sand, yet admitted on coming to Dubai to never having been to the Arabian desert. He even stated: « the romanticism of a place imagined has its own purity, in that it has not been tainted by experience ». I liked that.

I liked that ‘the place imagined’ -that otherness- generated peaceful and soothing impressions, turned into strikingly beautiful canvasses. I love that this series proves that otherness does not exist much outside of the imagination, and that only we can decide what to make of the purity of the place imagined. Only we can decide to draw on it, instead of letting fear darken it. Only we can decide to raise children who will choose to see it as a positive and constructive force.

That’s why I feel like Höglund’s smooth pastels and warm impressions may well be the best election-hangover cure you may find in town… I hope they make you feel the same.

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