Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

There are photographs that are impossible to forget. They lodge themselves in memory and stay there as a concentration of specific events. Especially if those events are tragic and strike the most vulnerable and fragile of beings — children.

The photograph of Vietnamese children and the naked girl among them is one of these. The children, with extreme horror and pain on their faces, panic-stricken are running toward the camera, while behind them their village is being bombed, their property being burned, including also their clothing and skin.

The Associated Press photojournalist Nick Ut took this famous black-and-white photograph in 1972, during the Vietnam War, when the North Vietnamese forces were bombing the country’s southern parts.

Napalm Girl won several awards and became more than a photograph. It’s a symbol whose level of impact and information value is more than even the ethical component — showing a person’s nakedness.

Attention on this photo emerged in recent years because of censorship on social media, when Facebook removed the photo, classifying it as pornographic. This act set a precedent to talk about facts and the different degrees of their modern-day presentations. This too was symbolic, since contexts are constantly changing, being updated with new signs and perspectives. 

And as a symbol (but now no longer of a newspaper, news, or online, but of the total media times), this photo’s key subject appears in the field of contemporary art.

French-Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed through his sculpture Cri (Cry) deprives the silently crying naked girl from any identifiable context. He locates the life-size ivory sculpture exclusively in its aloneness, within white walls and without any hints at time or location.

This sculpture presented at the 2017 Istanbul Biennial becomes a message on the impossibility of resisting violence and loss.

The girl barely maintains balance, standing on one foot, her mouth wide open, at the moment of silently crying, in widespread loneliness.

Abdessemed completely deprived the girl of an identifiable environment, deconstructed the famous photograph. The girl has appeared in a frozen environment; she too has frozen in time and space. Like something foreign or alien, which has nothing to do with real life.

This is quite a provocative work of art, which in a total and “chatty” media age captures the moment of silence. The moment of crying.

Nune Hakhverdyan

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