The Franco-Syrian artist Bady Dalloul was born in Paris in 1986, and is the first artist – and only artist for now – who has been able to go to Villa Kujoyama, in Japan, to do a residency in 2021. His work revolves around a group of Syrians settled in Japan, and is called Mon Pays imaginaire (My Imaginary Country).
You are a 2021 recipient of the Institut français residency programme at Villa Kujoyama. What does this residency represent for you?
It is a great opportunity for me to be able to do my research in such exceptional conditions and for a length of time as comfortable as four months. Collaborating with the Villa’s team enables me to meet rare and inspirational people. But also to refine the project on site, understand it better as the stay progresses.
You are the only artist to have been able to go to a residency in Japan. How was your arrival?
Like many people, I hadn't had the opportunity to travel since the beginning of the pandemic. Seeing an airport in these circumstances is very strange, the notion of travelling itself is very strange. When we arrived, we were taken from the airport directly to where we were staying to quarantine, with no distractions allowed. The timing was perfect for this as it enabled me to refocus and take all the necessary measures to carry out my project and get it on the right track before the residency started. It’s like an antechamber.
Why did you call your project Mon Pays imaginaire? What do you want to give an account of?
In this imaginary country, there’s a part that I imagine, that is in my head, and another that is to be discovered. I’m going to make a film about the arrival of different people with Levantine heritage (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq). These people, who have the same heritage as me, have chosen to come and live in Japan. It’s from their point of view that I’d like to imagine how you can start your life over in Japan.
There aren’t many foreigners in Japan. I’d like to understand if the story of their migration is extraordinary or if they share it with other people. And if there have been noteworthy migrations historically in Japan.
You use various mediums to produce your works: writing, drawing, video… What materials have you decided to work with during this residency?
We’re talking of migration, foreigners, and distance too. These notions can be developed through documentaries several hours long. Making a film will allow me to collect these people’s stories with a less explanatory and more visual approach. Making a film allows things to be said without being too direct. There’s also drawing and writing.
What is the autobiographical part of this proposition?
My parents arrived in Paris to study in the 1980s. I was born in Paris in 1986. It’s a personal experience that I find with the people I meet in Japan. Like a sort of parallel story. Going to Japan and listening then transmitting their story allows me to understand the process my parents went through.
How have you envisaged the final installation?
It will be making the film and presenting it within the scope of museum exhibitions. There will probably be other incidental works to the film, drawing in particular. I bear in mind the project that I did in 2019 in Nigeria thanks to the generous support of the Kadist foundation and the Lagos CCA for the exhibition “Diaspora at Home”: I met members of the Levantine community and made costumes from their accounts. Their life was written on the costumes. That was where drawing and handwriting came in, like a framework. Drawing is there to highlight certain important elements in their life. Drawing in my practice is for collecting ideas and memories, setting them in images.
You are Franco-Syrian, how did this “relationship” with Japan come about?
In 2015, when I was leaving the Beaux-Arts de Paris, I was lucky enough to be invited to Japan by one of my old professors, the visual artist Jean-Luc Vilmouth. From then, Japan became like a sort of “clarifying element” to my personal situation. Finding myself so far from home, so far away from my habits and culture, allowed me to undertake a deeper reflection than if I had stayed in the place where I grew up.
This project follows on from works started in Japan in 2015. How will they converse?
In August 2015, when I came to Japan thanks to the intervention of Jean-Luc Vilmouth, I visited Hiroshima and its memorial. I was amazed by the fact that today the city is thriving. Time passes of course, and people and places start over. I visited this place at a time when my parents’ country was experiencing one of the worst crises of its history, the parallel seemed obvious to me. It gave me the hope that one day this region will thrive once again, the hope to see its inhabitants live peacefully one day.
This meeting with Hiroshima gave birth to Scrapbook, a video work and a book that have the story of a Japanese schoolgirl irradiated by the bomb interact with what she could have seen in modern Japan and the Middle East, if she was still alive today. Mon Pays imaginaire is like a sort of continuation. The two films mirror each other but their approaches are different.
What are your upcoming projects after the residency?
I’m not lacking in project ideas, it is producing and exhibiting them that require an element of patience within the context of the pandemic. For now, everything is on standby. I’m living in the present.
Bady Dalloul is selected to spend time at the Villa Kujoyama. During this residency, he is working on a project called Mon Pays imaginaire.
Villa Kujoyama is an institution of the cultural cooperation network of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Operated by the Institut français du Japon, Villa Kujoyama is working closely with Institut français and it’s supported by its main patron the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation.
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