‘My Granddad’s Car’ is a multimedia art exhibition combining photography and video created by British-born artists Sayed Hasan and Karl Ohiri. Each artist has travelled back to the place from where their families migrated – Pakistan and Nigeria – to bring their grandfathers’ cars to the UK, and park them side-by-side; a project they devised while studying for the MA in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths. Already shown at terminal 5 Heathrow Airport, Tate Britain and the Lagos Photography Festival, ‘My Granddad’s Car’ is at ‘The Hub’ E16 from 8th November until 4th December.
This wonderful exhibition awaits the cars. Both – a fragile Beetle shell and a retired Toyota Corolla, both unusable – await shipment: held up for reasons that reflect the vicissitudes of life in Pakistan and Nigeria, and the difficulties of moving objects across international borders even in an era of hypermobility. The artists reveal instead in their exhibition the intimate acts and processes that might make it possible for the cars to arrive in the UK.
Cars usually move in the opposite direction: from the global north to the global south and not, as in this case, the other way around. The beetle is held at the port of Owerri, initially detained because, in its ruined state it does not constitute a car and thus falls short of its formal description on the export documentation. If not a car, is it scrap metal? Alert to its appearance in a London exhibition, the port authorities suspect it might be an art object; and this raises its value in bribes. Currently £2000 would secure its release, but the artists feel strongly that this would undermine the integrity of their project. It would certainly foreshorten the narrative of the car’s journey. Meanwhile it can neither be shipped to London nor returned to Granddad’s village. It is in limbo and Karl plays a waiting game with the authorities.
Shipping Sayed’ granddad’s car from Lahore is equally problematic for different reasons. Granddad is, sadly, now deceased, and a dead person can’t actually export a car. Its export thus involves transferring the ownership to a living relative and Pakistani national: Sayed’s uncle has kindly stepped up. But because granddad’s ID documents are pre-digital, what would have been a simple process has been referred to the courts. Sayed says: ‘at this point everything went backwards’. A solicitor had to draw up a document, which all of granddad’s children had to sign and thumbprint, agreeing the transfer of ownership to the uncle. This has to be approved by a judge: meanwhile a notice must be placed in a local paper in case anyone wants to challenge the transfer of this long-defunct car. On several occasions the judge has failed to turn up in court: now the solicitor has lost the paper work. A bribe, the artists refuse to pay, would resolve the situation.
While powerfully focusing on an everyday object, indeed one that has mobility engineered into it, this story speaks to the difficulties of movement in an age of heightened mobility. There is an evident symbolism too: the movements of migrants are as torturous and fraught with bureaucratic difficulties as the movement of objects. But if Sayed and Karl ever get their cars to London they might expect another equally fraught round of negotiations with Local Authority Parking offices! This exhibition is really worth a visit.
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