In 1987 the American artist Jimmie Durham left the United States for good; he moved first to Mexico before settling in Europe in 1994, where he has lived ever since. The question of identity as forged in relation to place is central to the work of the stateless activist, who was born in a Cherokee community in Arkansas.
Durham’s solo show at NBK, “Here at the Center,” presented works completed since his move across the Atlantic, some of which were made in collaboration with the Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves. These include the co-authored video Grunewald (2006), which was filmed in the eponymous Berlin forest and which displaces the sounds of birdcalls onto human figures blowing whistles.
Exploring sounds, scents, and textures, Durham engages with Europe’s landscape, but from a self-consciously “foreign” perspective. Eurasia, A Scent (1997), for instance, consists of a sawhorse supporting a glass bottle of perfume that Durham made from black walnuts he had found in Siberia, and which, he said, reminded him of his childhood in North America. While the show also included a series of photographs of Durham in different locations in Europe, the non-figurative works on view engaged even more so with self-portraiture and with the challenge of recognizing oneself in the encounter with difference.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 94.