Ali M'roivili, Safe Way (1995)
This is the paradox: to love a country, but also to have to leave it to liberate your body and your thoughts. It is a mirror. I am pleased that I have left, but also sad that I am unable to live a free and happy life in my own country. There is a modern hammer inside our head, a post-colonial way of life.’1
Wherever Ali M’roivili lives, his heart will always be with the Comoro Islands, a former colony of France, where he was born and bred. He grew up with the diverse influences of a French education and African ways of life in a Muslim family. His active participation in a movement that fought against oppression and the presence of mercenaries landed him in prison twice. In 1987, he went to France – first to Cergy-Pontoise and then to Paris – to enrol at art academies, which did not exist on the Comoros. But he could not settle in France and so he returned home after five years.
In 1995, he came to Amsterdam to further develop his work at the Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten. In the Netherlands, M’roivili has the freedom and the opportunity to work, but he also realises that his life revolves around two very different worlds. In his work, he tries to combine the reality of those two worlds. It shows influences of the history of Western art as well as of his African background. This is the paradox: to love a country, but also to have to leave it to liberate your body and your thoughts. It is a mirror. I am pleased that I have left, but also sad that I am unable to live a free and happy life in my own country. There is a modern hammer inside our head, a post-colonial way of life.’1
Representation is a major theme in his work. In 1997, in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, he exhibited cupboards with mirrors placed in between the African artworks and ethnographic objects (Dutch Façade), turning the spectator into an actor in the ‘Africa theatre’. In my work, I do essentially play with Western civilisation. In that game, I use all my strategies to touch upon some of my important and personal questions regarding my nomadic life, destiny and colonialism in Africa; in other words, the management of Western culture with my own culture.’2
In the work Safe Way, which he made in the year he arrived in the Netherlands, the arms of a worn jacket are clasped around a suitcase. It is a paradoxical image that seems to depict both the act of holding on to the memories of the past and the homeland and the act of travelling – and therefore, inevitably, letting go and leaving behind.
1. Ali M’Roivili in Ruud Jobse, ‘Een moderne hamer in ons hoofd’, Bijeen (May 1997), p. 51.
2. Statement of the artist on www.vmcaa.nl
Ali M'roivili, Safe Way
Ali M’roivili, b. 1961, Moroni, Comoro Islands
Safe Way, 1995
Suitcase and coat
100 cm x 70 cm x 25 cm
purchased in 1997, Museum De Paviljoens