Lee’s socialist-realist-style sculpture of a Korean family (For a Better Tomorrow, 2017) is made from plastic rather than bronze and sits on a fake marble plinth. But the family member’s faces are hollowed out, which the curator said is meant to remind Koreans not to lose the core of their identity in service of globalization and economic growth. It’s a curious form of nationalism that could well have positive effects if Korean collectivity could be exported the world over, a pride of country and of community not in opposition to others but in conversation with others—and, perhaps, over time, as a single, global collective entity that recognizes that the struggles of a Syrian migrant are not so different from those of an unemployed factory worker.
Tunisia took a step in that direction with its unconventional pavilion, “The Absence of Paths.” Initiated by Lina Lazaar, the pavilion has allowed unsuccessful migrants from the country to come to Venice on a tourist visa. (While the migrants working Tunisia’s kiosks are required to go home once their visas expire, Lazar is working through official channels in hopes of Italy allowing them to stay.) At the pavilion in the Arsenale and at two other kiosks nearby, the migrants distribute “Freesas,” a faux-visa or “universal travel document” that participants activate with their thumb print. Freesa distributors validate the documents with a stamp that reads “Only Human.”
All who accept the Freesa are indicated as having migrant status. The significance of this is driven home by the embossed, metallic image of Pangea on the visa’s upper right-hand corner: At some point in time, our ancestors moved from one place to another uninhibited by national borders. It’s a slice to the jugular of an Us-versus-Them, mercantilist politico-economic worldview. It does not profess that we all need to be the same, only that we’re more similar than different, and should act like it.