“When people are forced to leave their cities, they do not only drop their houses and cars and schools and favourite toys and friends and neighbours behind… they actually drop their skin and organs and memories they transform into outlines of a radiating light they walk whispering one thing my light is your light . . .”
my light is your light… tells the story of the uncertainty of being. The six life-sized figures made of curved neon tubes stand on a dock as though they have just arrived from far away. They are refugees, conceived by artist alaa minawi (indeed, without capitals). minawi is, like his father and grandfather, a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon.
The use of neon lights in art often refers to the way that mass media conveys messages. American artist Bruce Nauman, for example, made numerous works of profound or nonsensical statements in a variety of appealing colors and shapes that flicker on and off (see the banal but enchanting 1985 work, Seven Figures at the Stedelijk Museum). Is it art or Times Square kitsch? Nevertheless, you will be drawn to it, like a mosquito to a UV lamp.
alaa minawi has chosen to work with neon for a very different reason. Neon shines the same soft, serene light as a fugitive, he says. According to the artist, people who have been forced to leave their homes exude a soft, gentle glow. His sculptures are made of white neon tubes that distribute an extremely delicate and almost silky substance, especially in the evenings.
These fragile light sources have another function. Although bent to resemble the shapes of human figures, you can only see their contours. They are ultimately hollow, much like a refugee, says minawi, someone who has not only left behind all his possessions but also his past and his image of the future. With only those things that he can carry on his shoulders, the refugee takes the risk to flee to a new country to start a new life; a new life where everything can be filled once again.
my light is your light… is a temporary monument for the displaced in a city known for being welcoming and tolerant. The group sculpture exudes sadness, the figures’ heads bent and shoulders hunched over. But there is also an unmistakable optimism and borderless confidence in the future about them. Just take a look at the smallest neon figure, most likely a child, leading the others with his head held high. He, too, has had to leave everything behind. And there he stands. To his left, the infectious hustle and bustle of the city, and to his right, the beautiful Skinny Bridge. Just a few more steps and they will have arrived.
my light is your light… returned to the Amsterdam Light Festival in 2015 before being displayed at the Canary Wharf Light Festival in January 2016. The installation continues to tour, drawing attention to the plight of refugees and offering a message of hope to those affected by the situation.