Artists on the edge: A new exhibition using art as a political weapon seeks to explode the practice of cultural marginalisation. Marina Benjamin takes a look

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The Independent Culture
Disrupted Borders is the flagship exhibition of INIVA, the Arts Council-funded Institute of New International Visual Arts, whose fashionably New Age brief is to 'recognise that all peoples and cultures today are part of the same world'. The obvious danger is that the exhibition will sag under the weight of its own worthy credentials. But the 15 artists participating in Disrupted Borders are firmly grounding their art in the inequalities of the present.

The exhibition divides into three sections, exploring sexual, national and cultural boundaries. The highlight of the first section is Millie Wilson's photographic installation, 'The Museum of Lesbian Dreams'. Wilson uses a sequence of found images to parody the pseudo-scientific objectification of lesbians through normative traits such as mannish hair or tailored clothes.

The curator, Sunil Gupta, has tackled the issue of national boundaries thoughtfully, by combining the work of Shahidul Alam, a photographer who treats them as impermeable, with that of Carole Conde and Karl Beveridge who mourn their porosity. Alam's dark images chronicle Bangladesh's painful passage from military dictatorship to crypto-democracy.

In contrast to the nation-as-island motif of Alam, Canadians Conde and Beveridge use polemical photomontage to highlight economic and cultural invasion by the US. In one picture, defenders of a variety of Canadian magazines and journals are alarmed by a surrealist invasion of men in suits with the covers of leading American publications substituted for faces. Rather than exhibiting in Canada's galleries, the artists prefer to display their work on billboards.

The largest section, dealing with cultural boundaries, is more of a mixed-bag partly because issues of sexuality and nationhood seep in. Not that this is a failing, but there are certainly some unusual pieces . Take Doug Ischar's video installation. Two monitors sit side by side; on one a landscape is viewed from the sea, on the other a camera pans up and down a metal locker. For 'Off Limits' to resonate, you need to know that it commemorates naval officer, Allen Schindler, murdered by his homophobic shipmates in 1992.

Finnish photographer Jorma Puranen's installation 'Imaginary Homecoming' is the exhibition's star-turn. Puranen was inspired by the shared history of photography and anthropology as instruments of colonialism. By way of subverting that history he has achieved the impossible feat of returning 19th-century Sami people (Lapps) to their homeland. Free-standing facial portraits, resurrected from museum archives and mounted between perspex sheets, emerge from the floor like tombstones to populate snowy landscapes. The semi-transparency of the portraits gives the Sami a ghostly presence.

In melding photography, video and sculpture, Disrupted Borders itself disrupts the borders between the traditional poles of photographic expression - documentary and fine art. But this added twist makes the already broad and hugely varied exhibition harder to read. The viewer should simply appreciate the diversity of form and content, a fitting approach to an exhibition that sees globalisation as a patchwork of fragments rather than a splintered whole.

'Disrupted Borders', the Photographer's Gallery, London WC2 to 5 Aug (071-831 1772)

(Photograph omitted)

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