Interdisciplinary artist Wezile Harmans opens his solo exhibition DO NOT TRUST THE BORDERS at the UJ Art Gallery on 16 March 2023.
Developed from his original exhibition at the Bag Factory in 2022, DO NOT TRUST THE BORDERS focuses on the challenges of migration and its dehumanising impact on migrants. In a body of work that ranges from installation to video and mixed media works, Harmans explores the gatekeepers or boundaries that continue reinstating invisible othering by acknowledging only those who ‘belong’, and isolating others.
Turning to batting material, bandages and paper, tea and coffee, Harmans interrogates the migration policies that have resulted in “the dehumanisation of certain bodies through the colonial visa application processes.”
Investigating the concepts of displacement and dispossession
Using his interdisciplinary approach as a tool for social change, Harmans’ work confronts prejudices and advocates against social inequality, creating a platform for critical self-reflexivity within unwelcoming spaces. DO NOT TRUST THE BORDERS investigates the concepts of displacement and dispossession.
These very terms seem to be experiences of those who have been kept out due to physical and psychological borders which surround them. Harmans explores how the creation of a “border” reproduces and strengthens the negative narratives that exist amongst people and their geographical borders.
“The immigration processes strip all corners of one’s humanity, identity and dignity,” says Harmans. “There is a constant reminder that reinforces the idea that home is not where you are currently at if at all, home is nowhere.”
Harmans’ practice is influenced by research-based subjects that reveal human behaviour and the impact of knowledge transmission towards our surroundings. He creates works that engage with memory, reality, displacement, and landscapes, using the term “defamiliarisation” to describe his artistic practice, the artist places his work in an unfamiliar context that creates further conversation and transports the work into unfamiliar spaces.
Interested in the ways in which work is created, Harmans also sees an artwork’s process as forming part of the artwork itself. The complexity, rawness and imperfection add layers to the work and play a role in “trusting the process”. In this way, his work is viewed from a different angle, becoming a tool for consent, and “giving the public enough possibilities to think for themselves.”
A personal and ongoing body of work
DO NOT TRUST THE BORDERS grew from Harmans’ residency in Essen, Germany where he researched the topic of displacement and has been supported by the African Artists Foundation.
“The development of this exhibition was inspired by my interest with borders and how the Visa application process can be so dehumanising. The process of development included a lot of dialogues with people I have met who have had first-hand experience with crossing the borders,” says Harmans.
Harmans, who personally had an experience of border difficulties at the time of researching the work, further explains:
“When you talk about borders, one needs to realise that that concept applies to everyone. Restrictions are part of our lives, we are constantly performing and negotiating our lives, that is how I look at it. Imagine how those negotiations are in a foreign country or space, how taxing and draining for an individual. Dressing and undressing themselves, embarrassment, financial and emotional exhaustion. They go through that daily, and they are in a state of urgency.”