Checkpoint unfolds like a tragedy, with its dramaturgy and its sense of inevitability. The video opens with an image that has become symbolic, that of The Raft of the Medusa by Géricault, and seems to link the Mediterranean tragedy with the Senegal River, which can be seen through the portholes on the mezzanine. Then the artist appears, like a shipwreck victim, desperately trying to dry his soaking wet clothes. The water drips, trickles; the split screen increases the impression of a shipwreck despite its sculptural scarcity. The voice of Asmahan, a famous Syrian female singer from the early 20th century, emerges, probably a popular tune… The entire life of this woman, who was born on a refugee boat and died drowning in the Nile, echoes exile and nostalgia. When Ali Assaf created this performance in 2004, Lampedusa, an island off the southern coast of Sicily, a gateway to Eu- rope for many refugees, wasn’t yet the tragic checkpoint it has become since, leaving over 2000 victims every year at the bottom of the sea surrounding it.
Born in 1950 in Al Basrah, Iraq, Ali Assaf lives and works in Rome. Studied at the Fine Arts Academy in Baghdad and in Rome, where he graduated in 1977. He has been living in Rome since then. Since 1970 his work was shown in many solo and group exhibitions in Italy, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Among others: XIII Biennale d’Arte Sacra Contemporanea, Museo Staurós, Isola del Gran Sasso; 11th International Cairo Biennale, Cairo, Egitto; Gulf Film Fes- tival, Dubai 2009; Roma, The Road to Contemporary Art, MACRO Testaccio, Rome 2011; his work is currently in the Iraq Pavilion in the 54th Venice Biennale, 2011.