The term “borderland” is most commonly referred to as the crossroads where nations collide. It is a porous zone that diffuses outward from an artificially imposed human made punctuation called a border. Borders enact violence on the geography and identity of those living in borderlands. They are both imprints of power and scars of destruction. Borderlands, on the other hand, are the result of naturally occurring interactions among people and of nature trying to forge an existence in proximity to what is around them. In her photographic series, BORDERLAND, Alia Ali, re-examines these demarcated zones as territories of exploration drawing attention to them as transient physical spaces and a contemporary phenomenon from which the body of artwork is presented and the viewer is a participant.
The characters in the portraits, called —cludes, are wrapped in layers of fabric from eleven regions of the world that shield them from interrelating with anything beyond the material. Who is on the other side of the fabric questions the very nature of belonging and interrogates the binary of home and exile. Is the subject the one who imposes the standards, the decision maker, the ‘include’? Or the ‘exclude’? In the human act of processing our surroundings, we unconsciously categorize. We separate good from evil; familiar from unfamiliar; threat from safety; alien from native… We, influenced by categorizations create these dichotomies ourselves. The theme of duality extends to questioning the moment in which the mysterious becomes apparent, freedom becomes restraint, and illusion becomes reality.
Seeing is an act of power, but so is being seen. Are the -cludes hiding or are they being hidden? Is it an active form of anonymity or a passive one? When confronting the -cludes, we are forced to confront the ways we include and exclude others in our daily lives. Is exclusion motivated by a primitive fear and search for security? A form of self-preservation? A metamorphosis of the outcast into villain?
What are the fabricated barriers in society that inhibit the incorporation of others? Or are the obstacles just that: ideas, intuitions, fear, discriminations and ‘understandings’? The fabric, like borders, is narrow but long, defined physically and yet interpretative in identity- both have a capacity of exploration. Textiles are products of the earth, canvases through which culture manifests itself at the surface, and objects that become a part of us. Aren’t borders as well? Or are they simply spaces of blankness?
BORDERLAND was inspired by the aggressive push to block access, coupled with a strong nationalistic phenomenon taking precedence over providing security and refuge for those in greatest need. This discourse has already begun to build walls around the globe while simultaneously eroding communities built on diversity.
The -cludes are “undocumented” characters- their names are ambiguous and their exact location, a mystery. They are unidentifiable, except for the details displayed such as color, symbolism and texture eventually and simultaneously drawing on a sense of connection and alienation. Their existence questions what the human is and what lies outside and within it.
Fabric, ancient in its invention, is archival with the passage of time. The fabric, like the human beneath it, or the border it symbolizes within this body of work, is also vulnerable to the elements and to time. When all is said and done, borders shift and textiles disintegrate, but if well preserved and nurtured with culture, knowledge and grace they remain intact.
Borderlands, like textiles, are territories of exploration and zones in which we will be judged for our humanity.