Reflections 1  
Reflections 2  


Vacation_Destination>HOME @ Wasserette
© Daniela Swarowsky, March 2003

Daniela Swarowsky will write occasional reflections on her work in Zwaanshals. This format should become a platform for discursive reflection.

1a . ad Vacation_Destination_HOME

In June, everyone in Zwaanshals was talking about their upcoming vacations. Many of the shopkeepers and inhabitants planned to visit their families in their countries of origin. The idea emerged to ask some of those planning to go HOME, including the Wasserette owners, to produce 5-minute films about where they came from. They were free to decide which aspects of their homelands or hometowns to show to the Rotterdam public, the majority of whom are unaware or ignorant of the cultural backgrounds of their co-inhabitants. In addition to approaching people personally, we spread posters and flyers throughout the entire area.

Concurrently, an open call went to the artist community for material addressing the topic, in order to mix in an artist.s perspective on themes like "home," "identity," and "where do I come from?"

After summer-vacation we were confronted with the fact that, although quite a few people promised to make "home-movies" before their departure, not a single person actually did so. Was it a matter of trust? A matter of insecurity? Did they did not know how to make such a film? Didn?t they want to share their backgrounds with others? Was it too intimate a thing to ask? Many questions arose...

After the initial disappointment, we decided to ask people for old vacation material. Two people we approached finally gave us old footage: one from a family picnic in a Moroccan countryside, the other from his last visit to Arbil, the Kurdish capital of Iraq.

X gave us her tape from Morocco with the condition that we eliminate any human figure that appeared in that movie, so that no one could be recognized. Only pure, abstract landscape emerged. It was at that point that I first reached the limit of my comprehension, as I saw nothing but nice pictures in this little movie and did not understand the fear of being recognized.

I learned through numerous conversations with my friend Gadiza and other Moroccan accquaintances that for many Moroccans* home movies are kept very private, and are meant to be viewed only by themselves and their family members. As I understood it, most of them consider it inappropriate to show their families to strangers. This seems to be deeply rooted in their culture and perhaps also touches upon the taboo on image representation in Islam.

As a result of these discussions, I arrived at my personal interpretation and reading of the situation, albeit with many remaining questions. A Morrocan* understanding of the private versus the public sphere might differ dramatically from our notion of the same. Allowing people to look into one's intimate spaces is something that has in recent years developed into a frenzy in the West [.Big Brother. plus many follow-ups]. The Dutch in particular have a reputation for putting their homes on display, as they often do not use curtains.

So perhaps making one's home an exclusively "private" realm is an issue of pride: keep private things intimate, where intimacy is due. Or perhaps it is a result of insecurity, arising from an uncertainty as to how one's family will be perceived by a Westerner. Or perhaps it is simply a border, meant to shut out the "other", and to keep tradition and cultural identity alive: tightening the family circle as a defense against a foreign world? And there remains a strong animistic tradition alive in the Moroccan* everyday life: the fear of the "bad glance" is still present and women in particular are subject to this archaic rule, intertwined with the islamic laws and traditions. So the Moroccans* are very careful not to expose their female family members to strangers, whether in everyday life or in home movies. This was my first lesson.

The second lesson was a more mutual one. The day before the first screening of Vacation_Destination>HOME I mentioned lightly to X, who had given me the tape, that a voice remained intact in the movie. To my surprise, this passing remark provoked a vehement reaction from X. As we were asked to cut out all human imagery, how could we not realize that we were to remove voices as well? I had asked Gadiza to translate these 3 brief seconds of off-screen dialogue: "Get into the picture!" a man, presumably the filmmaker, shouts. From a distance a child's voice responds, "Papa!". I nearly lost my temper when X asked if she could listen to the audio, in order to decide wether to leave these few spoken words in or not. It was impossible at that point; the CD was to be burnt immediately! More importantly, I simply could not understand her demands; after all, the dialogue was completely harmless.

I realized that this little incident confronted the very basis of my world view or personal ideology, challenging some of the ideals I held most dear: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the arts, etc. "And where does 'freedom of privacy' come into your text?" Gadiza asked, as she was reading it.

For my part, I felt suffocated by X's demands; I didn't see the slightest necessity for the censorship she wanted to impose. I felt beening forced into something that I did not want to stand for. In such a context, did I still have the right to make an artistic decision? I had come to really like these few seconds of audio. I found that it brought physical space into this video. The next day, which was the day of the opening of the program, the family in question watched the edited version and finally accepted our treatement of their material.

Throughout the entire process questions arose as to how to deal with this "foreign" material, to what degree was compromise acceptable, and how much space remains for one's own artistic decisions.

ARBIL-KURDISTAN-IRAQ When Idriis gave us a tape from his last visit to his hometown in the Kurdish part of Iraq, we did not know that this would start Jan and myself on a different kind of journey. There were about forty minutes of footage that we needed to edit into a five-minute short. The entire tape was shot inside the house of Idriis's father, and most of the action involves a large family-gathering in the living room. Family members in exile are paying a visit. Everyone sits on the floor in a circle, talking, making jokes, discussing.

First I looked a couple of times at the material. Although I didn't understand a word, the interaction between the people, the warmth and humor, was striking, even touching.

Idriis gave us complete freedom to use the material however we wished. It soon became clear that I needed his help, translation of diverse conversations in order to bring the layers of the story to unfold.....

Video in this case serves as a communication tool which keeps families spread throughout the world - due to diaspora, war, economics . informed and in contact. For those in exile, it also serves as a way to keep the memory of HOME alive. People in Idriis's film send spoken messages to relatives in other countries. They joke about living abroad, and say that many of those remaining in Iraq want to live in the West, and try with both effort and money to escape there. But many are sent back, after being picked up near the border by police, and losing all their money as a result.

An old woman, who turns out to be a storyteller, is being asked to sing. She sings the "blues" of her people: "When I had to bury my brother, nobody came to help me" is the starting line of her song. I did not understand the full meaning of this line, until Idriis told me that it referred to the 1991 war, when Saddam Hussein attacked the Kurds; so many died during that war that every family was busy burying relatives. In her last verse, she sings about the beauty of her country, and that she doesn't understand why so many are leaving.
"Because you cannot live with permanent war, even if this is the most beautiful and rich place on earth. You need peace." Idriis is telling me. He and his family have been taking refuge in the Nederlands years ago. They express that they are not happy here and want to move back, as soon as their country turns into a more peaceful place. They find the way of living in Holland deprived of many things they hold dear. "Here all is about money. People are cold, the food is nothing, the weather is bad. My life-style here is by far worse than in my own country. But Holland is not at war. So our children can grow up in a peaceful environment here." Idriis did not want to get involved in a political discussions, so I had no chance to ask them about the war and if they support the American interventional politics.

* As I often generalize in referring to "the Moroccans," I should add that I speak mainly of the Moroccan community in the Oude Noorden of Rotterdam, who are primarily Berbers. I also suppose that among them, some might disagree with my assumptions.