When you exhibited your last series, On War and Love, you said that as you put that project together you began to understand more about what had happened during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Has this series made you understand anything more about where your dreams went? No. All I know is that in 2007, after seeing a show in a small gallery in Paris, I was talking to my friend and the title came to me: What Happened To My Dreams? I was overjoyed. I knew that whether I had a venue or not for this show, I had a direction with which to analyse my work and imagination. Once you have this direction, it’s just like being 20 and suddenly knowing exactly what passion you’re going for. From that day, whatever event happened in the world I would put into the series, using this as an expression of all the injustices and inequalities and things that traumatised me in the past.
What exactly were your dreams back then? Basically, they were about equality, justice – about the issues that, in the ’60s, seemed so out of time to us. Of course a man and woman are equal, of course a black man and a white man are equal, of course a Christian and a Muslim are equal. We didn’t understand why there was apartheid and things like this. Now while some of these things have disappeared – most countries admit that both men and women are equal, for instance – the reality is that things haven’t changed very much. There’s just more hypocrisy now.
There’s a sense of loss about all of these images… I wouldn’t say that even if those dreams were shattered, I’m a pessimistic man. I am a pessimistic man about many issues, such as equality or justice. The resurgence of religion in the rest of the world, the resurgence of nationalism – all of these notions that seemed to have gone forever. But I am optimistic that I’ll still go on seeing smiles, and generous and fantastic people. It’s just sad to see that things that are obvious to me and many others aren’t happening.
So has doing this series taught you anything about why things haven’t changed? I think capitalism has to do with it. I think even money has no more value. Like when my son realises that his iPhone broke after one year and three days, and he no longer has the warranty, he’ll just say, “Oh well, I’ll just replace it.” For us to put US$600 (Dhs2,200) into a phone was such a big investment. Like this watch that I bought in 1969, this was expected to last forever.
Has idealism gone the same way? Idealism has disappeared. You work for yourself and that’s it. That’s an effect of capitalism as well. Take Europe. Why is there this big debate of whether Turkey should enter or not? Let’s not admit it’s about religion, let’s admit that people are more enlightened than that. I think Europe’s ideals are about securing the individual, irrespective of whether they have parents. Everyone has to be his own chief. If you have problems in life, the state is there to help. Whereas in Turkey and in general the whole Middle East, family and friends are there to help. That’s why there’s not a European conception in Turkey. I’m happy that it goes into Europe, but when the individualism is so strong you have to work for yourself, you don’t really care about others, you only really care about your corporation.
In some of these photographs you’re in Cuba and Mozambique. What’s happening here? I went to Cuba for the first time. It had always been a dream for me. I summarised it in these photos with the line ‘I went to Cuba and felt like a colonist’ because I arrived in Cuba and was given money that was only for tourists, a car with a special coloured number plate. In the end, my dreams of people living together and sharing the same problems… it was the same in Mozambique! For us in London in 1973 it was ‘[military commander] Samora Machel, leader of the revolution!’ Then I went to Mozambique. And I felt like a tourist.