‘As Far As My Fingertips Take Me’ Exhibition to Open Nov. 9

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The Trisolini Gallery will begin hosting an interactive art exhibit on Friday, November 9 entitled “As Far As My Fingertips Take Me,” a piece that facilitates a conversation of touch and ink between an audience member and a refugee.

“As Far As My Fingertips Take Me” by Tania El Khoury seeks to tell the story of border discrimination and explore the idea of empathy through touch and sound. During the piece, audience members place their arm through a hole in the wall, allowing the performer, a refugee, to draw a story on their body. Though they never see each other, the two have a conversation that stays etched on the skin for hours afterward.

“We were all the time laughing a little bit, joking about this idea that one needs to feel a refugee, like literally feel a refugee, and thought, let’s test it out in this context, and a lot of people were very much into this piece,” El Khoury said.

This idea for this piece, which El Khoury dreamt about during a flight, was to respond to other artwork that depicts stories of border discrimination and the struggles of refugees. El Khoury contacted a friend, Basel Zaraa, a Palestinian refugee from Damascus, Syria, and asked him to be the performer. Zaraa, a musician, also recorded an original rap song to accompany the piece.

“It was picked up very quickly,” El Khoury said. “It started going all over the place … in the US, Chile. In Europe and the Middle East as well.”

The first two times they tried to take the piece to the U.S., however, did not go as planned. Zaraa was denied a visa and could not enter the U.S because of the Trump Administration’s travel ban. In place of his performance, El Khoury played a recording that explained the irony of Zaraa’s absence, adding, she said, a new layer of emotion to the piece.

Zaraa has since been granted a visa, but did not accompany the piece to Ohio University because of the extended length of the visit. Instead, two OU students will perform in place of Zaraa.

One of the students, Basil Masri Zada, is an artist and Ph.D. candidate in the Interdisciplinary Arts program. Born in Damascus, Masri Zada has been living in the U.S. since 2011 when he first arrived as a Fulbright Scholar. Though he has been in the U.S. for some time, he is still on temporary status and cannot leave the country or return to Syria. He says his art aims to “analyze, from a distance, the political misfortune in Syria” and clarify what it means to be Syrian in today’s world.

“Being Syrian in the U.S.A. in 2018 is not simple,” Masri Zada said. “I am not considered a refugee or asylee even if I qualify for both statuses. Being a Syrian in any part of the world right now is complicated, and these complications are reflected through our travel documents, passports and our continuing temporary statuses.”

Masri Zada said he got involved with the project because of its direct connection to both his artistic interests and his personal story.

“For me, my participation in this project as a performer is part of my own story, and my art practice message, as a Syrian who is facing challenges … just for being Syrian and for holding the Syrian passport,” he said. “It also reflects many other stories of border discrimination and the challenges of being Syrian today, which includes the limitations of movements, travel and having a stable situation without the fear or risk of being displaced for any reason.”

Overall, Masri Zada said the importance of the piece lies in the way it shows the tragedies in the lives of regular Syrians as they try to move forward from conflict. These stories, he said, are often not presented accurately in the media.

“Tania’s work gives many of these stories a voice to let others know and connect personally with these individuals,” Masri Zada said. “[This is] in contrast with news media that present such stories of Syrian refugees as statistics away from the day-to-day struggle to survive. It also shows that the struggle doesn’t end if you are outside Syria, but it is still there in any new location with new challenges every day.”

“As Far As My Fingertips Take Me” will open in the Trisolini Gallery on Friday, November 9 at 6 p.m. and run until December 1. Audience members can sign up for a time slot to participate in the piece here.