SHALOM ALEIKOUM, 2013
In his practice, Baba-Ali often turns to the theme of civilisational and religious conflicts and the search for ways to rethink them. So, in the work Shalom Aleikoum, the artist turns the most ordinary everyday object into a utopian gesture of hospitality. Drawing on the almost universal tradition of using a doormat marked in the most common Anglo-Saxon version with the word "welcome" – particularly ironic in this case – the artist has mixed the Arabic and Hebrew languages in this work. He has not only created an object resembling a ready-maid while not actually being one, he has also produced a linguistic construction that seems simultaneously familiar and completely invented. In both Arabic and Hebrew, the most common form of greeting may be translated literally as "peace be with you", and the kinship between the phrases is readily apparent phonetically. It is from parts of this universal greeting in languages now so clearly associated with a deep political confrontation that Baba-Ali has created the phrase "Shalom Aleikoum", which is not only a utopian promise of universal peace, but also an indicator of the current state of affairs.
However, the linguistic component is far from the only thing of importance in this work. As an object that customarily divides the private from the public space, the doormat symbolically refers not only to the phenomenon of hospitality, but also to the issue of borders, their conventions, their illegal establishment or, conversely, non-recognition, to their redrawing and intersection – i.e. to that Gordian knot which has made the Palestinian-Israeli conflict one of the most difficult in modern human history. Therefore, the work Shalom Aleikoum, located at the entrance to the space of the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre in Moscow, acquires a special significance and an additional utopian-futuristic dimension. Baba-Ali likes to work in public spaces, and in solving formal problems of his interest, he strives, in building a horizontal dialogue with the viewer, to give him the right of active choice. In this case, the artist raises the question of physical interaction with a work of art, giving the viewer the opportunity to decide whether or not to step on it, and perhaps, more broadly, whether or not to even notice it.
Text by Anna Zhurba