Sislej Xhafa Interview: Art is an Emergency


Kosovar Albanian artist Sislej Xhafa is known for his powerful way of challenging the social and political reality. He here discusses one of his poignant installations, which consists of the belongings of drowned migrants found at the coast of Lampedusa.

“I use art to question things.” Social injustice, unemployment, violence and human disaster are all matters that Xhafa addresses through his art, feeling that it is not possible to be present in the world without also engaging in it. Research is of utmost importance to him, and in connection to his installation ‘Medusa Archive’ (2014) he spent a lot of time investigating the environment, where a boat carrying migrants sank of the Italian island of Lampedusa. It was also here that he collected various belongings of the deceased migrants. These belonging became an integrated part of ‘Medusa Archive’, and underline the feeling that the departed migrants are both absent and present in the shape of the things that they have left behind. In continuation of this, Xhafa’s wish was not to show what the news media had already depicted, but to “get to the backbone of understanding.”

Sislej Xhafa (b. 1970) is a Kosovar Albanian artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Xhafa – who works in a variety of media from painting and drawing to sculpture and installation – is known for works that challenge cultural stereotypes, preconceived prejudices and institutional structures. He often explores the ways in which contemporary society functions – investigating social, economic and political realities. Xhafa has exhibited widely at venues such as the Italian Pavilion of the 55th Venice Biennale, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Tate Modern in London, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt.

The primary work discussed in the video is ‘Medusa Archive’ (2014) by Sislej Xhafa. It deals with the Lampedusa boat tragedy of October 2013, where a boat carrying over 500 migrants – mostly from Eritrea and Somalia – sank off the coast of Lampedusa (the largest of the Italian Pelagie Islands situated off the Eastern coasts of Tunisia and Libya), resulting in the deaths of more than 300 people.

Sislej Xhafa was interviewed by Kasper Bech Dyg in New York City, December 2014.

Camera: Mathias Nyholm
Produced and edited by: Kasper Bech Dyg
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

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