Sandi Hilal (DAAR), artist:
Living room: the right to host and to be hosted
”The living room is that part of the private house that opens itself to host the guest, the foreigner, the outsider. It functions as a transitional space and a passage between the domestic and the public.
In the Arab culture the living room is a space always ready to host unexpected guests, it is the most ornamented part of the house, never in disorder and often has fruits, nuts, black coffee ready to be offered to guests that might knock on the door at any time during the day. Even in refugee camps where space is extremely scarce, the living room remains the most important part of the house, as it represents a dignified place regardless of the precarious conditions found in the rest of the house. Paradoxically it might be the space that is least used, yet the most symbolic, curated and taken care of.
I first arrived to the city of Boden in November of 2016 to conduct field work for the project with the Public Art Agency. Most of refugees I met expressed that Boden, for them is a transitory place and therefore they spend most of their time inside their domestic spaces and have limited contact with the rest of the city. However, it is a wellknown fact among refugees in Boden that Yasmeen and Ibrahim, unlike them, have the intention of staying in Boden. When I first visited Yasmeen, her husband Ibrahim, her mother and little Leen, I was welcomed into their home and understood immediately that their living room was one of the main reasons they consider Boden home.
In away it reminded me of the city of Gaza where traces of the war are still present and yet surprisingly life has quickly returned to normal. From time to time you will encounter the remains of a destroyed high rise building, without any walls leaving the bare structure exposed in a seemingly abandoned ruin.
However, as you look closer you will find living rooms, with sofas and coffee tables still there amongst the rubble, inhabited by people who occasionally meet in these spaces. In an attempt to continue claiming ownership of their lost home, families maintain the living room as a place of gathering. As the living room is the less private space in the house, the absence of walls does not limit the possibility of living rooms to remain allowing families to continue to occupy and host within their destroyed houses.
Now, I found myself again in a living room, this time in Boden speaking about a destroyed house in Syria. In parallel, Yasmeen and her family intend for this Syrian living room in Sweden to become a space where the diverse people that surround them can gather, in turn allowing Yasmeen and her family to go beyond being mere passive guests to being active hosts.
In this powerful claim to the right to host, this living room in Boden also opens the possibility for this family to combine their lost life in Syria with their new life in Sweden.”