Why do we travel thousands of kilometers to pick up one refugee with our own car, but let the other freeze to death at the Europe’s borders? Since the war in Ukraine began, it has become clear that the lives of white people with blonde hair and blue eyes are worth more than those of people of color. What mechanisms are at play here? Who do we prioritize on the empathy ladder when it comes to life and death? Are empathy and xenophobia two sides of the same coin? In “Kitten or Refugee?”, visual artist, photographer, and filmmaker Tina Farifteh explores the uniquely human capacity for empathy, and its limitations. She does so in characteristic fashion. Tina is a self-confessed ‘image hoarder.’ She spends hours a day collecting photos and videos. Of unspeakable violence being perpetrated on people at Europe’s borders, but also of frolicking kittens and cooing babies. She is fascinated by the battle being fought for our attention, everywhere, all the time. Especially by tugging on our empathy. In the documentary, that battle is recreated, in a gray cube – part art gallery, part research lab. Experts, test subjects and experienced empaths are subjected to a deluge of varying images and subsequently interviewed. What do they think empathy is? Why are we more empathetic towards one, than ‘the other’? And what effect do images have on this? Tina Farifteh understands how easily humans can be influenced. With an academic background in both economics and art, she is able to approach this topic from different perspectives. Previously, she worked in marketing, where her day to day involved seducing people with images. As a multidisciplinary creator, she still does that, but now with the necessary critical reflection on the phenomenon. At the core of her work is how people are influenced – by images, companies, and governments. In her award-winning video installation “The Flood,” she deconstructed right-wing populist rhetoric about refugees. In her upcoming short documentary “Kitten or Refugee?” she explores the workings and malleability of our empathy.
The screening of Kitten or Refuge takes place within the framework of Refresh #2 War & Conflict. Within this framework, Tina’s video installation The Flood is currently on view as part of the central exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum.
How does past violence affect your life in the present? What do you pass on to future generations? Refresh Amsterdam #2 includes works by 20 artists from different disciplines, selected through an open call. Through their work, they demonstrate how wars and conflicts around the world and over time play a part in the city of Amsterdam. Refresh Amsterdam is a biennial, interdisciplinary manifestation of Amsterdam’s urban culture. This second edition is organized together with more than 20 cultural institutions in Amsterdam. Additional work by the makers presented here is being shown at various other locations, plus there is a weekly public program of talks and performances throughout the city. In the upcoming weeks ROZENSTRAAT will host several small-scale talks, readings or other activities using the Kitten of Refuge as a starting point for which research and production collective Prospektor, also the producer of the film, will serve as co-organizer.