Taysir Batniji: Home Away from Home at Aperture

Art Scene

Taysir Batniji: Home Away from Home at Aperture

Driven by themes of exile, displacement, and mobility, the work of photographer Taysir Batniji quietly explores ideas of “home” through the lens of family migration. A Palestinian French artist who arrived in France in 1995, Batniji is a recipient of Immersion, an award launched by the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès in alliance with Aperture Foundation. In his exhibition Taysir Batniji: Home Away from Home, he explores the experiences of a multi-generational cohort of members of his family who have immigrated from the Middle East to the United States.

Taysir Batniji, Home Away from Home exhibition

Taysir Batniji, from Home Away from Home (Aperture/Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, 2018) © Taysir Batniji           

This particular body of work focuses on family members located in Florida and California, and features portraits, images from family archives, drawings, writings, interviews, and conversations. The documentary-style photographs at the center of the exhibition embrace the ordinary and the mundane, requiring viewers to spend time with the work as a whole. Simplistically framed images of everyday life that offer a steady emotional quality slowly draw viewers into the mystery and layered existences of Batniji’s family members.

Taysir Batniji, Home Away from Home exhibition

Taysir Batniji, from Home Away from Home (Aperture/Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, 2018) © Taysir Batniji           

One wall in the gallery features a text-based installation of Batniji’s family tree showing several generations and branches of the family, with a handful of small 4”x6” photographs next to specific names. The family tree ,along with a salon-style wall installation of drawings that depict memories of the family’s past life in Gaza, invites viewers into an extensive imaginative framework and a subjective backstory. Although one might expect documentary photos to offer a sense of groundedness or “fact,” the images instead flow in a subjective space as viewers, along with Batniji, seek to understand his “American cousins.”

Taysir Batniji, Home Away from Home exhibition

Taysir Batniji, from Home Away from Home (Aperture/Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, 2018) © Taysir Batniji

Wall text fills in family backstory, revealing the prioritization of marriage, children and family; efforts to maintain the Muslim faith in the younger generation; careers as doctors; and locations such as Newport Beach, San Marino; and family vacations at Universal City. One particularly interesting piece of work is an 18-minute digital video, Najia & Ahmed, 2017. The video features white text against a black screen transcribing a conversation between Najia and Ahmed about his move to the United States. Ahmed arrived in the US in 1983 via Beirut and Abu Dhabi. Najia was born in Morocco. They have three children. The conversation is an emotional back and forth, a debate of sorts, about nostalgia, the pace of life abroad, and how living in the United States has shaped their world views and lifestyles in ways that may not be compatible if they were to move back to the Middle East.

Taysir Batniji, Home Away from Home exhibition

Taysir Batniji, from Home Away from Home (Aperture/Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, 2018) © Taysir Batniji

In one piece of wall text, Batniji shares that the title of the exhibition came from an interview with his cousin, Khadra, and the response to the question, “Do you feel at home in America?” to which she replied, “My original home is Palestine. But this is a home away from home. Yes, like home.”

Taysir Batniji: Home Away from Home is on view at Aperture through May 10, 2018.