The World Series
by Julia Glosemeyer
The World Series, a 2011 photographic project by the San Francisco–based artist Allan deSouza, comments on the paradoxical nature of today’s global travel and migration. Some of the artist’s pictures, such as beautiful aerial views of ocean and clouds like Specter (2011), invoke romantic notions of boundlessness. Others, however, contrast that ideal of unfettered mobility with images that reflect a society increasingly concerned with armoring itself against “alien” elements.
It must be mentioned that deSouza’s project was envisioned as a contemporary response to Jacob Lawrence’s epic The Migration Series (1941), sixty paintings on panel that commemorate the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North. DeSouza’s photographs deal with the same narrative of immigrants’ hopes and their struggles for survival in conditions of hostility and adversity, though his treatment is more indirect.
A number of photographs on view address the restriction of movement. Prohibitory signs are amply featured, the most memorable of which is a red sign with the words “No Entry” on an airport runway. It’s an ironic juxtaposition, considering that runways and planes have long been symbols of global connectedness and the freedom of movement. In another image, the person greeting visitors with outstretched arms on a “Welcome” billboard is a policeman. That uncertain welcome is echoed in an image of a “No Crossing” sign, in which the human figure is not just covered by red lines but also torn and mangled. The photograph speaks of the violence of trespass, of illegal border crossing, the punishment for doing so, and the debate about who is or is not fit to immigrate. Fittingly, one of the photographs directly concerns animosity towards immigrants: protesters hold anti-immigrant signs, and some of them point their cameras at the artist (who was born in Kenya to Indian parents).
DeSouza’s series illustrates a number of tensions: between capitalism’s desire for the free movement of people and capital and the need for ever-increasing control; between immigrants and nativist reactionaries; between the frequent-flying upper classes who feel entitled to a global welcome and the involuntarily mobile members of global precariat. These tensions are ably summarized by Pressure (2011), a photograph of a passenger plane with a warning on the side that reads: “Contents may be under pressure.”
The World Series is on view at SF Camerawork, in San Francisco, through February 25, 2012.
Julia Glosemeyer is a writer based in San Francisco. She is the art correspondent for the Eventseekr blog.
© Art Practical 2011-2012