Detained, Interrogated, Deported: the Art of Border Cruelty

A feature in Art Review by Yen Pham examines artworks that explore the artists’ experiences of detention and deportation at LAX airport while travelling to or through the US. It focuses on two works: Hamishi Farah’s Airport Love Theme (Book Works, 2020) – a graphic novel about Farah’s deportation from LAX en route to a show in New York – and 11 June 2002 – a 2003 installation by Arahmaiani, first shown at the Indonesian Pavilion at the 2003 Venice Bienniale.

The mediated economy of the international artworld is supposed to be the thing that protects Farah. ‘Do you mind if I explain my working conditions?’ the artist asks the aggressive Officer Roberta Gawins, who has decided Farah intends to ‘illegally sell’ their paintings in the United States. It becomes darkly humorous how much hinges on Farah’s patient and evidently rehearsed explanation that their unfinished paintings are neither ‘products nor taxable goods’; that when finished they ‘can’t even sell them’, as they will be consigned to a gallery. The punchline comes when Officer DJ Envy, a benign Everyman type, asks whether this means Farah would not sell their art to someone on the street, even if they wanted to buy it. ‘No, I wouldn’t,’ the artist responds solemnly, though they could direct them to the gallery. ‘Ohh…,’ the officer muses, echoing a popular meme of the character Wee-Bey from The Wire (2002–08). ‘That’s kinda stupid.’ ‘We got ourselves a prima donna!’ exclaims Gawins. The artworld does not protect Farah; the artworld doesn’t even make sense.

The piece was first published in the Summer 2021 issue of ArtReview Asia. Read it in full here.

Drawings from Airport Love Theme are currently on show in Switzerland as part of Hamishi Farah’s solo show, Dog Heaven 2: How Sweet the Wound of Jesus Tastes.

You can currently order the book half-price in our summer sale!

Detained, Interrogated, Deported: the Art of Border Cruelty; ; 2021; | Commission: Contact Artist: Farah, Hamishi; Editor: Black, Hannah; | Publisher: Book Works: | Designer: Claude D’Avoine