The Berlin-based artist’s engagement with displacement, trauma and memory, both personal and historical, has particular resonance in the context of the present pandemic.
One responsibility of being an artist is to face up to trauma, individual or collective or both, and to process it for, if not with, an audience. If it wasn’t before, trauma has become unavoidable during this pandemic year, and questions of who is marginalised or excluded, and by which processes, have become more urgent in societies stripped to their essentials, enabling governments to use lockdowns to push through draconian anti-protest laws or strengthen murderous border regimes. Further, the job cuts that have started at numerous art institutions may well lead to less diverse workforces and programmes.
Yishay Garbasz deals with trauma by confronting it head-on, bearing witness to it and making it integral to the form as well as the content of her work. Her most recent projects partly spring from her personal experience of being rendered stateless while living in Berlin when Israel, the country of her birth, did not recognise her gender identity on her expired passport. She also had an expired British passport, which did acknowledge her transsexual status, but the discrepancy left her unable to renew either document. The issue was eventually resolved with the help of Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which pressured the country’s Interior Ministry to recognise her gender. But, postBrexit, remaining in Berlin without German citizenship is a bigger problem. Throughout lockdown, Yishay worked on a British flag made entirely of the razor wire more recognisably used along borders or at detention camps for migrants. She also made a US flag, using 200m of wire, some of which she left unpainted so as not to over-aestheticise the 25kg work. The project brought together two of her long-term interests: the violence of international borders and institutional transphobia. In the UK, both are getting worse under an authoritarian, far-right nationalist government with a large majority supported by a craven, cowardly media and an opposition party terrified of standing up to either.