Here’s a little thing really worth seeing if you are in central London. The British Museum runs a series of Asahi Shimbun Displays in a small gallery immediately to the right of the main south entrance. They are thoughtful, simple shows of contemporary art and antiquity, and always worth a quick pause (though for now the entrance security tent can take the edge off “quick”). The room is easily missed, and has been quiet whenever I’ve visited. I dropped in today to see the current display, Moving stories: three journeys, which closes on April 30.
It’s a powerful, contemplative experience. On one side you can watch three short extracts from a film in which the late Édouard Glissant, a Martinique poet and philosopher, talks about how migration (in these excerpts, mostly a traumatising experience) drives a creative cultural “multiplicity”. He likes borders, he says, because they separate worlds of distinctive interest, but the concept needs rethinking.
On the opposite wall are photos illustrating all the pages of a book (present in a nearby case) by an Iraqi artist living in the Netherlands, Sadik Kwaish Alfraji. He calls the graphic, melancholy work Ali’s Boat, after an 11-year-old nephew he visited in Iraq in 2014. The young man drew him a boat, and wrote across one corner, “I wish this boat takes me to you.” Alfraji’s response was a series of sketches and writings addressing the illusions and dangers of migratory dreams.
And in between the two is a box of a tunnel. On the floor is projected a full-scale image of footprints in the hardened, million-year-old mud of Happisburgh beach in Norfolk. Sarah M Duffy’s record photos have been animated so that as you stand among the prints, the tide comes in and you can no longer see toes, then retreats leaving little puddles in the prints which look like elongated windows into the past, clouded and rippling.