In films and installations that move backward and forward in history, between place and nonplace, she confronts the legacy of colonialism and the experience of displacement with satire, doubt, and hope.
Al-Sharif’s newest work, Capital—comprising a two-channel video and a series of banners depicting architectural renderings of proposed urban spaces—references Italian White Telephone (Telefoni Bianchi) films of the 1930s and ’40s. Named for what was then a scarce status symbol, white telephone films upheld and promoted conservative and nationalistic notions of home, family, and religion. They were later understood as precursors to fascist propaganda films. Often set in foreign or even imaginary countries, the films featured Italian characters in lighthearted, escapist narratives and offered Hollywood-style glamour untouched by class or social conflict—a far cry from daily life in wartime Italy.
Capital was shot at various locations including the CityLife residential complex in Milan, the Nile riverfront in Cairo, residential neighborhoods in Alexandria, and construction sites of new cities—places where architectural histories are romanticized even as they are being erased. Through these sites, al-Sharif explores the desires that drive politicians, urban planners, and their imagined ideal residents as well as how the resulting designs, with their disregard for the historical failures of colonial architecture, seek to transform and control the cultural and political landscape. Together the film and installation hint at the limits of free speech and reveal how the legacies of fascism live on in the present.
Basma al-Sharif: Capital is curated by Michal Raz-Russo, programs director, The Gordon Parks Foundation.
The Ruttenberg Contemporary Photography Series is generously supported by the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation.