Abdelali Dahrouch – Homo Sacer, 2009
In the naked glimpse of another’s face, we encounter both a fear of and a yearning for intimacy. Stephen Batchelor, Living with the Devil, 2004
On a slightly inclined table in the middle of a darkened room, a barely visible body undulates beneath water. The body’s head is wrapped in a white cloth and lingers as if suspended in time. Images and sounds from the victim’s memory, at the liminal moment between life and death, appear and reverberate throughout the space.
The moment of death in spiritual teachings isn’t really a moment at all, rather a continuous cycle of unfolding. Birth, life, death, and regeneration give rise to the timelessness of our soul’s journey, where there is no ending and no beginning, only a moment in time that contains the fullness and emptiness of the universe in one breath.
Homo Sacer is a meditation on life, death and interconnectedness. Latin for “Sacred Man,” Homo Sacer is a term used during the Roman Empire to refer to a person who is banished from all civil rights known under the law. That person today is referred to as the “enemy combatant” by the United States government. Disappeared from the gaze of justice and community, deracinated from family and home, this person is rendered to a “black site” beyond the purview of God, nation, citizenry, habeas corpus, and human rights.
Water boarding is a common method of torture used in these black sites where the human body, comprised by over 70% of water, is subjected to trauma by its own source. Water molecules push the body to its limits, toward extreme pain, with drowning repeated until confession or death. Water, the source of all life and the liquid matrix that forms the energetic and biologic composition of the human body, becomes alienated from itself as it is used to destroy what it ultimately cannot. This is the futility of fear, hatred and violence. In destroying the other, we encounter ourselves, and in that destruction, there can only ever be the face of regeneration.
The body of water in Homo Sacer is taken from Lake Shrine, the Yogananda Paramahansa Meditation Garden in Los Angeles. Here, water symbolizes cleansing, purification, and source. It embodies the sacredness of life and humanity, while also engendering the space of unitive consciousness, a space beyond the degradation and trauma of the postcolonial ground. Is it possible to find revelation in the face of our betrayal of humanity, that place of no separation from which we have disconnected, and to which we always return?
Abdelali Dahrouch is an installation artist, writer, and activist who is based in Los Angeles. Born in Tangier, and raised between Morocco and France, Dahrouch emigrated to the U.S. in 1984. His work explores Buddhist themes of spirituality in relation to ecology and globalization. Recent exhibitions include Zonder Titel (Untitled) at the Museum of Contemporaty Art (Muhka), Antwerp, Belgium and the Gwangju Biennale, South Korea. He teaches at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California.