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The Sea is the Limit

From November 10 to December 7, 2019

Exhibit Opening

November 10, 2019 at 5:30pm


Varvara Shavrova


Nidhal Chamekh, Mohammed Sami, Taus Makhacheva, Susan Stockwell and Varvara Shavrova


The Gallery at VCUarts Qatar


Patrick Heide Contemporary Art Gallery, London, York Art Gallery, York and PILOT Gallery, Istanbul
Image caption: ‘Traded Winds’ ©SusanStockwell 2016, ©photo SteveHickey 2016

The Sea is the Limit exhibition brings together works by international artists who are addressing the issues of refugees, borders, migration and national identity. Drawing on both historical and contemporary narratives that shape identity and opinion, the artists question the meaning of nationalism, free movement, inclusion and exclusion.

Using the language of painting, drawing, sculpture, video, installation and virtual reality, the artists explore some of the complex experiences and emotions associated with borders and migration, statelessness and belonging. The works in the exhibition do not offer solutions to the migrant crisis, but instead draw attention to its challenges in a meaningful way.

The exhibition was presented at Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, London, York Art Gallery, York, UK and now at The Seas and the Mobility of Islamic Art, the 8th Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art. This conference looks primarily at the mobility of material culture–things or buildings, what they look like, what they are made of, and who made and consumed them.

Taus Makhacheva, 'Baida (still)', Performance was scripted by Tim Etchells. Performed by Zubair Dzhavatkhanov and Artem Krupin. Voices: Deborah Pearson. Video 15min 31s, 16:9 format, Madeleine Botet de Lacaze and Andy Field. Production supported by Gazprombank and Art Finance, Moscow, 2017. ©Taus Makhacheva

The Sea is the Limit

By Varvara Shavrova

Images of refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea in unsafe overcrowded vessels have been dominating the media since 2015 and have become powerful symbols of the “migrant crisis”. The term “migrant crisis” however, can be contested, as the meaning of the word “crisis” implies a situation that is temporary, and therefore requires temporary measures and solutions. The reality is different. Migration to Europe is expected not only to continue, but to increase, creating what can be described as a “migrant condition”. The ongoing position of migrants who managed to survive the arduous journeys across the seas is often that of precarity, danger and uncertainty. Refugees and migrants stand at the limits of societal acceptance and become stateless non-residents of the world. The sea can be interpreted as a metaphor for the societal attitude towards migrants which, on one hand, keeps them afloat without offering safety or refuge, and, on the other hand, engenders the persistence of the sense of temporality of the “migrant condition”. Hostility turns into indifference, the last frontier where human life and its value is challenged and undermined.

Referring to the sharp clash between the expectations and the realities experienced by migrants crossing the seas in search of safety and a better life, the artists in The Sea is the Limit exhibition address the fragility of human life. The sea serves as a metaphorical symbol of all migratory and diasporic experiences, where physically perilous journeys across the continents and the seas also represent continuous journeys of the emotional kind, an uprooting and a disconnection. Dispossession, alienation and trauma do not always manifest themselves in direct physical experiences, but are all too familiar to many migrants, as an emotional backdrop to the physical upheaval of forced transition.

The first version of 'The Sea is the Limit' at York Art Gallery. Highlighting the issues of migration, dispossession and borders. Pictured is artist and exhibition curator Varvara Shavrova in a work called 'Migrant Crisis'. ©Anthony Chappel-Ross

The sea serves as a metaphorical symbol of all migratory and diasporic experiences, where physically perilous journeys across the continents and the seas also represent continuous journeys of the emotional kind, an uprooting and a disconnection.

Mohammed Sami, 'Notes From Underground', Acrylic on linen, 2016, ©Mohamed Sami


halilaltindere_portrait_Alp Ilyas Klanten


Halil Altindere explores political, social, and cultural codes and focuses largely on depicting marginalization and resistance to oppressive systems. Altindere has been a central figure in the Turkish contemporary art world since the mid-1990s, not only as an artist but also as an editor, a publisher, and a prominent curator.

Altindere reversed the conceptions of the nation-state and authority through works on everyday objects such as identity cards, banknotes, and stamps in his early productions, and started to focus on subcultures, gender and odd-but-ordinary situations of everyday life after the 2000s. The ironic and political nature of his work makes it easily accessible to his audiences. His works have been included in exhibitions at Documenta, Manifesta, and Biennials in Venice, Istanbul, Gwangju, Sharjah, and São Paulo, as well as at MoMA/PS1, New York.

Portrait Nidhal CHAMEKH ©Pol Guillard


Nidhal Chamekh graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Tunis, and Sorbonne University in Paris. The neighborhoods of Tunis where he grew up, and the persecution of his activist family, had a profound impact on his art, where he drew together spaces and cultures.

Chamekh’s work could be considered as a tool to “sample” the chaos of our history. This would in fact create plans that can operate certain “biopsies of chaos”, to constitute a kind of social and cultural archaeology. It is also a way of seeing social temporality in a given space of visual dislocation from reality.

His work has been exhibited at the 3rd Aïchi Triennale (2016), in the Yinchuan Biennial (2016), the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), the 11th Dakar Biennial (2014), The Institut du monde arabe, The Hood of Art, Art Basel, 1:54 African Art Fair, National Centre for Living Art in Tunis, the Selma Feriani gallery, and the Primo Marella Gallery.



Mohammed Sami studied drawing and painting at the Institute of Fine Art, Iraq, Baghdad, 2005. He emigrated to Sweden in 2007. He earned a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in 2015 from the Belfast School of Art at Ulster University, in Northern Ireland, He completed his Master of Fine Arts degree at Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2018.

Mohammed Sami’s autobiographical paintings underline the psychological impact of trauma on memory. Rather than using trauma as a testimony to the Iraq conflict, he witnessed first-hand, the artist deployed painting as a delusive instrument to communicate something that goes beyond the explicit depiction of trauma or language. Interior/exterior scenes reoccur in Sami’s large-scale realistic works, where everyday objects, light, and shadow, become ongoing triggers he negotiates with the past and the present, giving the absent an apparent presence in his works.

Sami’s work was selected for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2018 exhibition, which went on tour to the Liverpool Biennial and the South London Gallery. Sami also exhibited at the FBA Futures at the Mall Galleries in London in 2019. Solo exhibitions include JAMM ART Gallery, Kuwait (2013), Dag Andersson Gallery, Norrköping- Sweden (2012), Al Khanji Gallery, Aleppo, Syria (2006), and Alwasity Gallery, Baghdad, Iraq. Sami was awarded the 2019 Hottinger Prize for Excellence, at the Mall Galleries in London. In 2016 Sami received The Undergraduate Award (The global winner of the Visual Art and Design Category), in Dublin, Ireland, and in 2015 The Culture Award from the Östergötland Region, Sweden. Sami’s works are included in the collections of the York Museum and The Government Art Collection in the UK. He lives and works in London.

Taus Makhacheva photo by Aleksandr Vainshtein for Eto Kavkaz


From 2002 to 2003, Taus Makhacheva studied at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. In 2006, she graduated in World Economics from the Russian State University for the Humanities. In 2007, she completed a BA program in Contemporary Art at Goldsmiths, University of London. From 2008 to 2009, she studied New Artistic Strategies at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Moscow. In 2013, she received a Master’s degree in Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art in London.

In 2011, Makhacheva’s The Fast and the Furious was included in the main project of the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, which was curated by Peter Weibel. In the same year, she made it to the shortlist for the Kandinsky Prize (category: Media Art Project of the Year). She was awarded the Innovation Contemporary Art Prize (category: New Generation) in 2012. She took part in the Liverpool Biennial. In 2013, her work was exhibited at the Sharjah Biennial and in the special program of the Venice Biennale. In 2014, she was on the shortlist for the Innovation Prize (Best Regional Project of the Year with the exhibition Story Demands to be Continued) and won the Future of Europe prize at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Leipzig.

Her works are in the collections of Tate Modern, London; MuHKA, Antwerp; Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Moscow; Sharjah Art Foundation; P.S. Gamzatova Dagestan Museum of Fine Art; Gazprombank Collection, Vehbi Koç Foundation, Istanbul; Yarat Foundation, Baku; Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; and San Francisco; the collections of the Uppsala Konstmuseum, and the Videosight Foundation, Turin, as well as many private collections in Russia and abroad. She lives and works in Moscow and Dagestan.



Susan Stockwell’s work takes many forms, from small studies to large scale sculptural installations, drawings, and collage. It is concerned primarily with transformation and with issues of geopolitics, mapping, trade, ecology, and history. The materials used are the everyday, domestic and industrial disposable products that pervade our lives. These materials are manipulated and transformed into works of art that are extraordinary.

Susan Stockwell gained an MA in sculpture from the Royal College of Art in 1993. Her works have appeared at exhibitions at galleries and museums all over the world including: the Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Katonah and the Neuberger Museums of Art in the US, and the National Museum of China in Beijing. She has been awarded scholarships, grants, and commissions, such as a Visiting Arts Taiwan-England Artists Fellowship, and commissions from the University of Bedfordshire, Black Rock Investments, and the National Army Museum. She has taught extensively and taken part in residencies and projects in Europe, America, Australia, and Asia. Stockwell is based in London, in the UK.

varvara-shavrova-photo_Marion Galt


Varvara Shavrova is a visual artist and curator born in the USSR who lives and works in London and Dublin. In her practice of engaging memory, nostalgia and reflection, Shavrova creates installations that make connections between historic and current narratives, between the archival and the present.

Shavrova’s curatorial projects include ‘The Sea is the Limit’ exhibition at the York Art Gallery in the UK, ‘Giving Voice’ exhibition of the former president of Ireland Mary Robinson’s archive in Ballina library in County Mayo, Ireland, ‘Map Games: Dynamics of Change’ exhibition at the Today Art Museum in Beijing, the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery in the UK and the CAOS Centre for Contemporary Arts in Terni, Italy, and ‘Through the Lens: New Media Art from Ireland’ exhibition at the BAMOIC Beijing Art Museum of the Imperial City.

Shavrova studied at the Moscow Polygraphic Institute and completed her MFA postgraduate programme at Goldsmiths, University of London. She received Fellowships and awards from Ballinglen Arts Foundation, British Council, Dublin City Council and Culture Ireland.

Public Programming

Nov. 10-11, 2019

The 8th Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art: The Seas and the Mobility of Islamic Art

Nov. 10, 2019 ― 5:30 to 7 PM

Opening reception with curator Varvara Shavrova

Nov. 11, 2019 ― 12:30 to 13:30 PM

Qatar Foundation Art Trail: Guided Tour with curator Varvara Shavrova

Nov. 12, 2019 ― 12:30 to 13:30 PM

Artist talk by Varvara Shavrova for the Painting and Printmaking department


Opening reception of 'The Sea is the Limit' exhibition

Taus Makhacheva, "Baida", 2017

Photo Gallery

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