Felipe Romero Beltrán’s DIALECT at FOAM in Amsterdam

Dialect, “a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.”

FOAM Museum, Amsterdam invites you to view Felipe Romero Beltrán’s exhibition, Dialect, where we visualize the heavy legislative language and legal paperwork immigrants must decipher, deconstruct and translate in order to achieve legal status. 

Winner of the FOAM Paul Huf Award, Dialect uniquely documents the story of young immigrants settling in Spain after crossing the threatening maritime border between Africa and Spain, the Strait of Gibraltar. The multi-media exhibition conveys the young men’s experience after leaving their home country, Morocco; the unfamiliarity, alienation, separation and the hardships of gaining legal status from the Spanish state.

Three years in development, Beltrán first met with the young immigrants in Seville where he later asked them to “reenact their experiences and memories” in a choreographic and compositional style. Within these series of photographs Beltrán uses the subject’s bodies as a kind of metaphor to portray the stark sentiments of discomfort and uncertainty when adjusting to a new place. As viewers, we catch a glimpse into their (reenacted) ‘daily’ lives which are riddled with a sense of uneasiness expressed in the position of their body language and in their gaze. The seemingly cinematic images induce an interesting conflict between intimacy and inaccessibility. While there is a desire to initiate a conversation, to meet and make acquaintance with the subjects, there is an inherent difficulty in apprehending the person and the space within the image. It intuitively and profoundly gives voice to the sentiments immigrants experience when seeking refuge in another country unknown to them. 

Upon walking into the exhibition, visitors are confronted by a towering paper sculpture situated in the centre of the room, which is in fact the literal 23,793 pages of Spanish immigration law young illegal immigrants are subjugated to. An additional complimentary video installation, titled “Instruction”, shows dancers “physically taken along [by the young immigrants]” to act out “the ordeals the men lived through while crossing the narrow strip of water that separates two continents.” 

In a world of intense political debate and where illegal immigrants are painted ‘the Other’ or spoken of as ‘inundating’ numbers, Beltrán reminds us that these are also merely people by bringing a human element into the foreground in his photographs. By including performance and artistic composition, Beltrán not only allows viewers an interpretation of the social concerns but also offers viewers the chance to inquire into the anecdotal perspective of the subjects. 

Although there are artistic elements involved in the exhibition, Beltrán explains that he views his photographs and the totality of his exhibition as a documentary as opposed to an expression of art. “It’s factual.” Beltran clarifies. “Even the stage photography and the visual, it is just re-enactment of past memories [which the young men experienced] therefore in a way, it’s documentary. I am approaching reality with different tools so in that sense I am a traditional photographer, but I am also someone who still just takes pictures [in other words, a person who documents].” 

With the increase of oppressive bureaucracy and the demand to close borders, particularly in Europe, Dialect reminds us of the consequences and the experiences of those who must endure the alluring and heated immigration debate. The exhibition sheds light on this and is highly recommended.   Anja Herrmann 26th January 2024

Dialect can be seen at FOAM in Amsterdam from until 1st May.