Ali Cherri: Somiculus

The practice of Ali Cherri (born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1976) is rooted in an ongoing investigation into the role of archaeology in the construction of historical narratives. Focusing on the spaces of conflict and catastrophe in the highly visible Middle East, Cherri’s work often observes the fragile presence of historical violence in its everyday environment.

In Somniculus (“light sleep” in Latin), he turns his attention to the deepening relationship between the processes by which artefacts are excavated, collected and classified and the way these artefacts are understood through controlled systems of representation. Capturing the inner life of French ethnographic and anthropological museums, he presents a world in which fragments of past civilizations have come to represent the universality of human experience. Preserved within the structure of the museum display, artefacts live on as containers of their own place and time. Their physical trajectories and their possible roles in the narratives of Enlightenment, imperialism and colonialism, cannot be traced. What remains are fragments of the past defined by constructed narratives and understood only through ideological regimes of representation. The objects seem less than alive, yet they speak to us and haunt us still. Just as we watch them, they watch over us. Here, looking is not simply a political act of questioning the reality before us, but an act of imagining a reality beyond the visible.

To enter into a phase of “light sleep” is to engage the waking imagination. Like the weightlessness of objects suspended outside time, the body is neither dead nor alive but waiting to be awakened.