Displacement and trauma. Making meaning. A retrospective.
Never before have so many people been affected by displacement,
having fled persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations
Conceptual artist Emma Willemse works with the powerful and universal themes
of home, displacement and the traumatic experience of the forcibly displaced
An artist explores in her work the nature of the traumatic experience of the loss of a home. Rooted in the personal experience of displacement she has suffered herself, her work resonates in her own country with its history of forced removals and around the world in an age when record numbers of people have been forcibly displaced by conflict, violence and human rights violations.
Director: Victor van Aswegen
Emma Willemse is a South African conceptual artist who has in her work across a number of genres and media for more than a decade been dealing intensively with the themes of home, the loss of a home and displacement. Apart from the Western Cape where she is based, she has exhibited in Dakar, Florence, Johannesburg and Paris, and her extensive body of work includes moving, magisterial pieces featured in the film.
Often working with the traces of habitation left by the displaced, the marks remaining on the landscape after the departure of those who are now absent, she has sought to explore the connections between land-and-home, identity and memory, and how the trauma of displacement from a home manifests in fractures, lacunae, absences in memory and identity.
Her interest in these themes stems from a personal history of losing several homes in the 1990s, and her work is focused on the subjective experience of displacement. Tracing the arc of her creative output over the years, Displaced reveals the origins of the sequence of artworks in her life story: the creative impulse arising from personal experiences, events in the domestic sphere triggering the development of concepts that are ultimately embodied and expressed in works of art.
Contextualising her oeuvre against the searing local and global realities of displacement, and articulating the harrowing psychological impacts of loss of home, place and land, the film is an empathetic engagement, refracted through art, with the traumatic experience of the forcibly displaced.
Through scenes of the artist at work, cinematic set pieces presenting her work, and interviews with academics, gallerists and critics, the intriguing relationship between materiality and meaning is explored: how we imbue objects with meaning both in the artmaking process and in life, how the layers of meaning can then be unpacked in almost archaeological fashion, and how the deep engagement with an accomplished, richly layered work of art can rank among life’s most rewarding experiences, deepening and enhancing our high-level understanding of the world, and helping to guide our actions through its manifold, daunting complexities.
Through images, words and music, concepts and reflections, story and feeling, Displaced explores a universal human experience and one of the major themes of our time.