Open the Land to the People
Visual Arts

Open the Land to the People

Soloway Gallery is pleased to present Open the Land to the People, a solo exhibition by Keren Benbenisty. The exhibition presents selected works (2016-18) from Benbenisty's study into the Lessepsian Migration of fish from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal, which slices through the Egyptian desert.

The Lessepsian Migration is named after Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French diplomat and the developer of the Suez Canal, which was constructed between 1859-1869. The canal was introduced to the world as the pinnacle of human progress, and a benevolent project that connects between East and West. In reality, the new waterway was designed to serve the trade interests of the European imperialist powers by allowing ships to sail directly between Europe and Asia without the need to round the African continent. After its opening in 1869, the new canal catalyzed a massive migration of marine species to the Mediterranean Sea, which brought significant changes to its ecosystem and biodiversity.

Benbenisty follows the work of the Tel Aviv University zoologist Dr. Menachem Goren, who appears in her video work Light, Skin (2017), and studies his methods and taxonomies to develop her own methodology. In On Black and White (2017), the artist removes the fish skin, processes it and transforms it into 35mm slides, indexed by coded skin tones of her own invention, which defy the scientific binary of black and white. In a series of prints titled This is Not a Fish (2017), the artist documents fish species by coating them in black ink and imprinting their form on paper by using the Japanese Gyotaku printing technique. Classified border-crossing stamps imprinted on the skin-thin Japanese paper (blue for a “Native” stamp; red for “Alien”) imbue the Magritte-referenced title with a disruptive stand against the crude indexicality of both migrating fish and humans. Benbenisty’s use of ink imprints extends to her large-scale painting Mare Nostrum (2016-19), which depicts a colossal folding wave that the artist painted solely by the use of her inked fingerprints.

Benbenisty’s critical intervention into the scientific discourse over the migration of fish provides for an insightful metaphor for the complex and painful issue of human migration that is stirring political unrest across Europe and the US. Aperire Terram Gentibus (Latin for “Open the Land to the People”) was Lesseps's family motto, which later became the official motto of the Suez Canal. Against the backdrop of the current standoff in U.S. politics over the country's immigration policy, it bears mentioning that Lesseps was also the diplomat who was chosen to present the Statue of Liberty as a gift from his country to the US under its original title and intent: “Liberty Enlightening the World”.

* This exhibition was made possible with the help of The Foundation for Contemporary Arts’ Emergency Grant.

Date and time

Mar 01, 2024
12:00 AM (UTC+0)

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