The Dictator (2018)
The suitcase is a curiously emotive object. It may contain belongings but possibly also memories, and their trace, wisps of previous ‘excursions’: a little sand, a stray thread, an out of date ticket, a foreign coin.
Traffic, (2002), a poignant work by Mona Hatoum, held by the Art Gallery of South Australia, consists only of two dull-coloured mid-sized well-travelled suitcases. The cases are joined, like Siamese twins, by a hank of dark hair. Hair is often an element one finds in a suitcase – it could be yours or an Other’s.
When I first saw Johny Salama’s work The Dictator, (2018), I immediately sensed the fragility of the traveller: all those cases – which is mine? is it at the bottom or the top of the pile? And what of the chair at the apex? Who could it be who might be perilously positioned atop this pile of travel ware, this accumulated responsibility – I imagined someone moving their life, their family, to another land and guarding what little they were carrying, someone looking out at the world from a place of insecure momentum.
This interpretation was not that of the artist – Salama informed me that I was looking at the chair of a dictator (and yes I should have studied the chair more closely, it was finely wrought, elegant, not an itinerant’s style at all). It was the chair of someone who sat carelessly above the miserable momentum below, someone who sat insensitively on the lives of others.
Salama is Syrian, he understands momentum, dislocation, chaos, indeed hell enforced by dictators. The suitcase is a very poignant symbol indeed.