When James Edson, owner of Mowlem Street’s Wayward Gallery, was first told about Seba Kurtis’ new book, Kif, little deliberation was needed upon deciding whether or not to show Kurtis’ collection of illuminating photographic work. After reading less than a paragraph from the accompanying book, James became entirely convinced by the heartfelt tale of two migrant friends caught up in the gruelling business of smuggling drugs.
Kif, in what is the Wayward gallery’s first show of 2013, presents a story through the lens of an unlikely perspective in hindsight and experience, in homage and reflection, depicting the various hidden realities of those living on the borderlines, and getting by with whatever few means possible. Born in Argentina during the seventies, Seba Kurtis fled Buenos Aires in 2001 amidst a tumultuous backdrop of nationwide political crisis under the rule of Augusto Pinochet. Taking his family to Tenerife, Kurtis had no option but to remain on the edges of society, finding himself being thrown into the burgeoning dangers of illegal immigration and poverty. It was around this point in his life where he met Dodo, the story’s lead protagonist and unfortunate link into the underworld.
Seba Kurtis, Mirrors; Courtesy of the artist and The Wayward Gallery.
The reason Kif feels as though it could be a read out like a fictionalised account of inspired friendship and loss, is purely down to the arrangement of diverging elements. Firstly, and most importantly, Seba’s imagery recounts a forgotten, yet beautiful landscape that is cohabited by the unforgiving nature of exploit and corruption, one where Dodo’s life seemingly flourished and sadly, was taken. In reflection to the death of his dear friend, Kurtis’ work nods towards stark contrasts evident between the hashish (or natively ‘Kif’) smuggling trade and its stunning, rural location. Pictures that include whitewashed medinas clinging to slopes on the Rif Mountains appear hazy and somewhat calm, giving a sleepy sense of what should be a peaceful environment. While on the other side of the room, stern portraits of local individuals, and x-ray scans of bodies that act as holding bays to cartel contraband cargo, reminds us of a graphic, non-fictional reality, that many similar to Dodo have unfortunately succumbed to.
Akin to documentary style, much of Seba Kurtis’ work mixes fantasy and reality, as he traces the steps from where Dodo was found dead in Barcelona, all the way to a small Moroccan province, Chefchaouen, where the illegal trade was cultivated and applied. Looking around the room, you’ll notice that there are no contextual descriptions given to any of the images, nor is there an introductory statement for the exhibition explaining Kurtis’ background. This purposely lends itself to swaying a primary importance towards the journal’s account, and on the whole forces the issue of one using Kurtis’ personal story to engage further with the exhibition's telling imagery.
The photographs from Kif will be exhibited at The Wayward Gallery, 47 Mowlem Street, London E2 9HE, from Friday 5 until Sunday 14 April.
(Image on top: Seba Kurtis,Tetouan; Courtesy of the artist and The Wayward Gallery.)