W 145th Street, Harlem


Charif Benhelima


Photography, 129 x 125 cm.
Materials: cibachrome

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp (Inv. no. S0285).

Between 1999 and 2002, Charif Benhelima lived in Harlem, New York, where he made a large series of Polaroid portraits entitled Harlem On My Mind. Included here is W 145th Street, Harlem (2002), a glistening, shadowy image shot with an extra red filter, then enlarged as a CIBA chrome. The figure is blurry; the eyes are closed and it is not entirely clear if the subject is laughing or letting out a scream of despair. Equally unclear is exactly where the photograph was made. The red color refers to the irrepressible liveliness of Harlem that Benhelima felt there, but also to accompanying, uneasy elements: fever, passion, blood. The series as a whole transmits Harlem’s special sphere. Benhelima does not just portray Harlem's people, but also the broken streets with trash and graffiti, the poverty and the violence. There are also images of happy faces, a Christ-figure, a crucifix, a dove in flight… Benhelima’s images work in a way that gives precedence to his existential perception. A sign of hope or of despair?

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