By Dr. Elżbieta Wiącek

The motionless male figure timidly extends a red flower in front of him. His refreshing attire, clean-shaven face, and the prop he holds in his hand evoke the image of a guest who has come for a scheduled visit and stands at the door, waiting for an invitation. However, as the camera moves away, gradually revealing his entire silhouette, his claims to elegance are questioned his neat clothing is clearly too tight. Moreover, it turns out that the man is holding a suitcase, which raises questions about the reason and duration of his visit. After a while, a large-scale acrylic painting is overlaid with a video projection a stream of hurried passersby indifferently bypasses the man and the flower he offers, resembling the matchstick girl from Andersen's fairy tale. The street scene displayed on the canvas brings the painting to life and merges the two techniques painting and film. Despite this interference, the figure of the man does not integrate with either the plane of the painting or the stream of pedestrians. We get the impression that he is both present and absent. According to Doris Berger, the curator of Entekhabi's exhibition in Berlin, the posture and attire of the man indicate that he represents a polite and uprooted guest worker. Although this term refers to a past phenomenon, and even the term itself has disappeared from politically correct language (replaced by the phrase "German citizen of Turkish/Italian, etc., origin"), Berger believes that this discourse is still relevant. Entekhabi, who has been living in Germany since 1983, is undoubtedly deeply aware of the complexity of this situation, both as an outsider and an insider.

From 1955 to 1973, "guest workers" from Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Portugal were silent co-authors of the German "economic miracle." At the same time, as the name suggests, their presence was initially expected to be temporary. Zygmunt Bauman refers to "strangers" as people "who are paid for strictly defined services and what is more important, to be able to get rid of their company once the services are provided ('stranger does the job, stranger can go' to paraphrase a saying that the currently applicable principle of 'political correctness' does not allow us to use in its original version)." But what to do when guests don't want to leave or when they come uninvited?

Modern societies equate the idea of order with clarity in existing divisions and classifications. In this arrangement, foreigners are "strangers" only if the projected order makes them an "alien element." These people, by the mere fact of their presence, blur the boundaries that should be distinct they are semantically "undefined" or endowed with meanings that the logic of classification defines as mutually contradictory. Modern order is a war against ambivalence. In defining the strategies adopted within it, Bauman uses terminology from Claude Lévi-Strauss's The Savage Mind. In the anthropophagic strategy, strangers are consumed literally (cannibalism) or metaphorically (assimilation) thus transforming them into a substance indistinguishable from one's own. The anthropoemic strategy involves "vomiting" the strangers, removing them from the domain subject to order. The boundaries that confine the strangers are solid walls or invisible yet equally impenetrable regulations concerning work, trade, relationships, and communication. In one part of Entekhabi's series Migrants, a tempting paradise of luxurious goods is guarded by a glass display case, or rather the fact that a pious life does not guarantee access to it.

In the modern project, foreigners were a transitory anomaly. It did not seem that their presence would be permanent. The realities of postmodernity have challenged these hopes and brought about the need for reflection on how to coexist permanently with otherness. Moreover, strangers have become necessary. In a world marked by permanent uncertainty, one can focus anxiety on the elements of otherness and blame them for the sense of threat and one's own powerlessness. Meanwhile, those who feel secure find in strangers a pleasant sense of diversity, exotic tastes and sounds, subjects for important conferences or publications on the dilemmas of multiculturalism or transculturality. Since strangers are indispensable to us, we must zealously discover or create them and, above all, protect their distinctiveness. On an as-yet-untrodden path, they are essential points of orientation. "Therefore, there must be many species of them, and these varieties must be as variable and flexible as successive incarnations of identity on its endless journey toward itself."

The variability and plasticity noticed by Bauman are qualities that cannot be denied to Entekhabi's creativity. In Migrants, these characteristics intensify with exceptional intensity. A Balkan gangster with a Sarmatian mustache cleans his nails with a knife (Mladen, 2005); a Latin American guerrilla laughs demonically with a cigar in his teeth (Miguel, 2006); a Muslim fundamentalist walks with an inscrutable and inspired expression (Islamic Star, 2005). The characters' appearance and behavior are so diverse that it is difficult to notice that Entekhabi himself embodies each one. Undoubtedly, these highly distinctive, even exaggerated figures cater to the postmodern need for diversity. If strangers are to remain a permanent element of the landscape, let them at least provide us with strong sensations or, at the very least, intrigue us with their extraordinary appearance and behavior, captivating our restless imagination.

The "characters" in the Migrants series are, in many respects, a contradiction of the representations in Entekhabi's earlier video installations. Me?, Rockefeller Boulevard, Alcazar (all from 2004) focus on the figure of an unknown migrant, referred to by the artist as "M." This shy, almost invisible Gastarbeiter (guest worker) appears in various public spaces - on the street, in a bar, on the subway. As always in Entekhabi's works, the backdrop is the urban scenery. "They are inspired by Baudelaire's texts and his concept of the flâneur," admits the artist. However, while in Flowers of Evil, the urban space is reserved for the white middle-class stroller, in Entekhabi's films, this circle expands significantly in terms of social status and race. These are usually marginalized people, individuals who are unnoticed or forced into self-ghettoization. It is also difficult to say that "M" simply enjoys walking. Rather, "M" skulks through the city rather than reveling in its charms. He is always in motion, usually with a suitcase in hand, always aware that as a guest, he can be expelled at any moment. His constant uncertainty is connected to the fact that the question of "whose presence is allowed in public space?" is constantly answered by the "host society" in different ways. "M's" response to this uncertainty is the effort to secure a place for himself in a society that no longer needs his presence. In the performance video Attenzione (2005), like a spider weaving a web, he quickly reserves a piece of space for himself, enclosing it with plastic tape. Although this makeshift construction has an informal character, "M" tries to give it an appearance of formality. The red-and-white color scheme of the tape expresses claims to officialdom and legitimacy. It evokes multiple associations: it signals an annexed space, a private space (the dream of a home), a space from which entry is restricted for safety reasons (the stranger as a threat), and it brings to mind construction sites and physical labor (strangers as people for "dirty work"). It may also express an awareness of the feeling that regardless of whether we are dealing with a nationalist-racist discourse or a liberal-democratic one, everyone agrees that the best recipe for living with strangers is to maintain a mutual distance. "M" almost always appears with a suitcase - an inseparable attribute of a migrant. In the series of symbolic drawings, it fulfills not only its ordinary function but also serves as a means of transport, a home, a pillow, a dog, a source of information, a chair, a swimming pool, and ultimately as an aid in a suicide act. It is not a convenient rolling travel bag but rather an old-fashioned type of suitcase. Its presence, like Charlie's cane or Mr. Hulot's umbrella in the films of Jacques Tati, assigns the character to the past, emphasizing its inadequacy for the contemporary pragmatic context. Not all devils are scary...

The clash of civilizations does not always have to evoke fear or be painted in dark colors. In the synthetic and sympathetic video Happy Meal (2004), a young Muslim girl with a huge appetite devours the titular meal in a McDonald's restaurant. Sounds of Middle Eastern music and children's chanting praising the power of Allah can be heard in the background. Entekhabi juxtaposes the metonymy of the fanatic world of Islam and a sign of resistance to Westernization - the black hijab - with the metonymy of the relentless expansion of the West and globalization. As Aimee Marcereau DeGalan points out, this juxtaposition evokes a feeling of unease or discomfort in both Western and Eastern Muslim viewers. This film is an attempt to overcome mutual prejudices and stereotypes, an attempt to minimize mutual otherness. "After September 11, the hijab became a metaphor for radical Islam and - moreover - a symbol of the oppression of women in the Middle East," Entekhabi observes. However, when worn by a sympathetic little girl, the negative connotations become less obvious.

The passage states that the creator, unlike Morgan Spurlock in his documentary "Super Size Me" from 2004, avoids tackling "big topics" or engaging in alterglobalist discourse. Entekhabi is not interested in reaching an objective "truth," conducting investigations independently, or exposing corporate mechanisms. While Spurlock diligently tracks methods of manipulating customers, especially children, Entekhabi focuses solely on documenting the fact. The passage highlights the subjective and unquestionable pleasure a girl experiences while consuming a happy meal, regardless of what we know about the production methods or the destructive impact of fast-food chains on the environment. Entekhabi seems to be uninterested in interpretations that draw on George Ritzer's book on artificial enchantment techniques in consumer spaces. Similarly, Iranian directors such as Abbas Kiarostami, Majid Majidi, and Jafar Panahi often position the camera at a child's eye level, attempting to see the world from their perspective. In this cultural dimension, the conflict between East and West becomes relative, emphasizing the human essence rather than representing a specific ideology. The passage concludes with a quote from Jean-Francois Lyotard, suggesting that humans are most human during childhood, but maturity is associated with moving away from childhood. Despite the clash between East and West, the child emerges unscathed, and the focus shifts to the human essence.

"0. (...) always, incessantly, we seek form and delight in it or suffer through it and adapt to it, or we violate and shatter it, or we allow it to create us, amen." - Witold Gombrowicz[1]

This quote reflects Gombrowicz's perspective on the human relationship with form. It suggests that humans are constantly engaged in the pursuit of form, whether it be in artistic expression, personal development, or societal structures. The quote acknowledges that individuals can find pleasure and fulfillment in form, but they can also experience suffering when trying to conform to or adapt to established forms. Additionally, it implies that individuals have the power to challenge and break existing forms, or alternatively, allow themselves to be shaped and influenced by them. The use of "amen" at the end can be seen as a rhetorical flourish or a declaration of affirmation.[2]

The installation titled "How to Perform Prayers" consists of three video films: Wudu, Fresh Azan, and Salath. Each of them deals with religious rituals, the daily practice of which is a sacred duty for a faithful Muslim. Nikita von Rebeck, who comments on the installation, emphasizes the fact that in each of the three films, the "performers" are women, which in itself challenges the gender hierarchy in the world of Islam, or at least Western beliefs about it.

A rigid, unchanging structure that has existed for centuries accompanies her variation in all parts. In Wudu (2002-3), the image on the right side of the frame shows a sequence of ablution performed with ritual correctness: first the left hand, then the right, followed by the elbows, arms, nostrils, and feet. The mirrored image on the opposite side presents the set of these actions in reverse order. Fresh Azan modifies the matter of tradition by entering the realm of gender and questioning the established allocation of roles. Azan, the call to worship Allah, is the daily task of the muezzin, and also the words that a husband whispers three times into each ear of a newborn child. In the film, a quiet male voice reciting the prayer in Arabic mixes with the azan sung in German by a woman standing on the balcony of a multi-story building. The echo of her loud, melodic singing reverberates far above the rooftops of the housing estate and attracts the attention of passersby. The artist treats the titular rituals like Marcel Duchamp treats his ready-mades, as objects in the process of creating. The original object remains almost unchanged, but placed in a new context (or given a new name) it takes on different meanings.

The title of the 8-minute video installation, "Salath," refers to the most important prayer in the Muslim world. This prayer not only praises Allah but also symbolizes the absolute faith of his followers. In the film, we see a young woman on a prayer rug. She is dressed according to the principles of hijab, but it is evident that it is not a garment she is accustomed to, as indicated by her noticeable discomfort in an unfamiliar situation. The voice of an older man, the praying woman's father, can be heard from off-screen. The father recites prayers that the daughter is supposed to repeat. The woman tries very hard to accurately repeat the Arabic words that sound foreign to her and attempts to adopt the proper body posture. She occasionally interrupts her father and asks him in German to speak more slowly or to repeat phrases that are difficult for her to remember. The woman's behavior oscillates between respect and obedience towards her father and a thinly veiled sense of absurdity. However, a choice must be made: a conservative form or a contesting one.

Similar to Gombrowicz, Entekhabi explores the genealogy of form, its interhuman origins, and the reactions it elicits. His works are the visual equivalent of the statement that "without respite, we are in pursuit of form, we struggle with other people over style, over our way of being." According to Jerzy Jarzebski, Gombrowicz's form is a way of existence in society: it encompasses language, a code of norms, and a set of social stereotypes. On one hand, it is a person's attitude towards life, their style, and on the other hand, it is a value that enables interpersonal connections. Opposition to form arises from the sense that it is not "from us," but imposed on us from the outside. Entekhabi's strategies for fighting form resemble Józio's methods from "Ferdydurke" – disrupting the order of style by introducing a new element that does not fit in. Form irritates and attracts. Regardless of the emotions it evokes, it is always a starting point. It seems that we cannot do without it. And you can become a Muslim too.

The supplement to the installation "How to Perform Prayers" is "The Right Way to Pray" - an interactive animation in Flash that explains the principles of Islam and teaches the proper ways of manifesting faith in the most accessible manner possible. The juxtaposition of traditional content with the method of realization - the most advanced technology and a very simple, comic-style drawing - creates a comic effect. Once again, Entekhabi forces us to abandon the stereotypical view of Muslim culture by offering us an image to which we are not accustomed. He removes the exotic paraphernalia - minarets, arabesques. We only see a schematic figure in a tunic assuming various positions. If we remove the accompanying commentary, the visible gestures and postures may not be so obvious. This alternative image of religious practices does not emphasize what is specific - on the contrary, it pushes cultural differences aside. They are marginalized because they are, in essence, an unstable construct and not something essential. By following the instructions, anyone with a little goodwill can learn how to properly worship Allah.

The use of modern computer techniques has other implications as well. It reminds us that the world of Islam is also a historically changing world, not just a prop room full of exotic costumes and masks. Edward Said, in defining Orientalism as an instrument invented by the West to control the fear and fascination of the East, especially the Muslim Middle East, evokes the metaphor of the stage. The Orient is the stage on which the East is enclosed, and behind this stage is a gigantic storeroom where we can find, among other things, the Sphinx, Muhammad, genies, and where no inventory has been conducted for a long time. The Western man accepted axioms of the unchangeability of the Orient and its diametrical otherness, and starting from the 18th century, these assumptions were never revised. When Jean-Dominique Ingres painted "The Turkish Bath" (1862), he did not need live models - he only relied on collected engravings depicting the interiors of the harem to create an extremely suggestive world of refined eroticism. In this atmosphere exuding tranquility, harmoniously intertwined bodily forms are more like timeless visions of sensuality than depictions of real women. In that era, only one Baudelaire truly felt the essence of these paintings: "This impression, difficult to define, containing something of constraint, sadness, and fear, is reminiscent of the nausea induced by the atmosphere of a chemical laboratory or the feeling of being in a ghostly environment."

"Me?" (2003), Entekhabi employs a strategy similar to Ingres but with a significant difference: it is a process of "self-Orientalization." In the process of creatively copying 19th-century European images - historical and ethnographic - depicting people from the East, Entekhabi imparts his own features to the faces of men. In doing so, he highlights the consequences of being perceived as a "man of the Orient" in a Western context.

A similar technique - simultaneously an ambivalent fascination and a distinct form of expression - is illustrated in a series of oil paintings created in collaboration between Entekhabi and Pakistani painters of film posters. The title of the series, "Lollywood," refers to the colloquial name of the Pakistani film industry centered in Lahore, the capital of the country. These works are not merely pastiches or pure playfulness. The main characters of these productions, whose content we can easily imagine, have the face of Entekhabi. Besides irony, these creations harbor a longing for form - admittedly exaggerated and restrictive, yet colorful, seductive, ready, and expressive. It is another new aspect of the artist's multiplied identities.

The ethnic and masculine roles embodied by Entekhabi are clichés primarily shaped by the media, visual shortcuts that are easily noticeable and identifiable. Their nature, media lineage, as well as the form of self-portraiture, bring to mind the works of Cindy Sherman. Sherman's series "Untitled Film Stills" (1977-80), featuring the artist embodying film heroines from the 1950s and 1960s, evokes a sense of familiarity with these women, even if we cannot recall their specific sources. While Sherman does not conceal the tight and uncomfortable forms of neat or sexy cultural propositions imposed on women, her feminism is not confrontational. It is a postmodernist feminism employing Baudrillardian strategies of seduction, play, and irony, rather than the poetics of a manifesto. This characteristic connects her photographs with Entekhabi's work. In both cases, reference, the feeling of "having seen it somewhere before," takes the foreground. In both cases, these figures can also be decoded based on their attire, accessories, and behavior. However, there is one difference: while Sherman's "dress-up" remains within the realm of visual culture, works such as "Migrants" are rooted in German socio-cultural reality, drawing not only from film but also from "life."

"Invisible Chador"

In addition to the autobiographical or rather "self-portrait" trend, an important aspect of Entekhabi's work is the reflection on the process of looking, particularly looking at the human body and its culturally conditioned representations. These issues are addressed in works such as "Das kleine Schwarze," "Playboy" (2006), and "Him and Her" (2006). Using black acrylic paint, the artist "dresses" models from fashion magazines and men's magazines in chadors. This technique is an ironic and comedic repetition of the methods employed by Iranian censors. With the victory of the revolution under the spiritual leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, mass censorship of women's images in books and newspapers in public and university libraries began in 1978. Undesirable images or photographs were either cut out or painted over to comply with the new aesthetic principles. The adaptation of the portrayal of women to the requirements of the new order also extended to the film industry, where indecent female charms were treated in the same manner frame by frame or removed altogether during the editing process.

"In my works, two cultures collide," the artist states. "On the one hand, this series reminds us of how many women are subject to such regulations, evoking the 'black widows' known from television news. On the other hand, these works analyze and examine the frequently questioned idea of beauty in the Western world." These actions are not a simple critique of either world. By "Islamizing" Western mass culture, Entekhabi reveals a subversive approach to the issue of perspective and revises the concepts of freedom of expression and censorship. While Islamic regulations protect women's bodies from the male gaze, the West reflects this practice through inversion. In fact, these practices have much in common both homogenize, both have an oppressive character. It could be ventured that Western society is governed by a principle as stringent as the principle of the hijab the requirement to be attractive, well-groomed, to be "in shape." To conform to these demands, a piece of fabric is not enough shaping the body requires much more complex procedures, ranging from dietary sacrifices to the surgeon's knife. In "Him and Her," the commentary on the issue of being seen and the possibility of seeing expands its thematic scope the white bags on the heads of male models serve as a reminder of the American practice of isolating prisoners from their environment or the "games" with Iraqi captives.

"Whistled Conquistadors"

Entekhabi's response to Orientalism is also an attempt to Occidentalize the wealthy white West. The "White Trash" video depicts the invasion of tourists from northern Europe in the popular resort town of Lanzarote, accumulating photographs of overweight, pale, and poorly dressed people. In the background, whistling sounds mix with music. The Canary Islands also serve as the backdrop for the video installation "OFF SHORE." We observe (this time from a certain distance) bronzed, relaxed beachgoers strolling along the shore. The sun-soaked landscape is undisturbed by any incidents. There is nothing disturbing in the interactions of the tourists. The idyllic image is only disrupted by data appearing on the black passe-partout of the colorful landscape. Text in a format similar to what we see in television news programs reports on the victims of an unknown identity found on the coast. Sometimes the information specifies their nationality: Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Mali. Dates and place names where the bodies were found pass before our eyes. These "dry facts" make us aware/remind us that while the islands are visited by 4 million tourists from northern Europe each year, newcomers also arrive from other parts of the world. They have different goals and means of transportation. In search of work, they embark on a dangerous journey from the Atlantic coasts of Morocco. They risk their lives crossing 160 kilometers of ocean on boats, rafts, or in cargo holds. Many of them do not reach their destination. Those who do manage undertake arduous efforts to obtain immigrant status, which is not always successful.

Does Entekhabi himself feel a belonging to any of the worlds he presents? "My 'self' is divided into two persons," the artist confesses. "One of them is fully integrated and engaged in everyday life. The other always arrives a bit too late standing in front of closed doors, getting lost." In the film "i?" (2004), although Entekhabi is recognizable in both roles, the face of his alter ego is partially turned away or hidden in shadows. We observe one person trying to escape from the other, to lose their "other self." In vain. Just as the postmodern native cannot do without the foreigner their alter ego so too the soul has a hard time without it.

Elżbieta Wiącek
[Dr. Elżbieta Wiącek, Film Studies, January 11, 2007]

In occasion of the exhibition: It's Been a Long Way, Baby...
Gallery of Contemporary Art Bunkier Sztuki, curated by Anna Smolak and Magdalena Ujma, Kraków, Poland (2006, solo show)

Dr Elżbieta Wiącek Institute of Intercultural Studies Graduated in film studies from the Jagiellonian University and was awarded a doctorate in art history (2004).

  1. Description: This quote reflects Gombrowicz's perspective on the human relationship with form. It suggests that humans are constantly engaged in the pursuit of form, whether it be in artistic expression, personal development, or societal structures. The quote acknowledges that individuals can find pleasure and fulfillment in form, but they can also experience suffering when trying to conform to or adapt to established forms. Additionally, it implies that individuals have the power to challenge and break existing forms, or alternatively, allow themselves to be shaped and influenced by them. The use of "amen" at the end can be seen as a rhetorical flourish or a declaration of affirmation.