It has been said that history is written by the victors. The works of Victor Leguy point out how institutionalised or official accounts of history undergo simplification or obfuscation due to ideology, politics, ignorance or corruption. His project Structures for Invisible Borders (2016–17) focuses on histories and trajectories of migration and displacement, specifically in the context of São Paulo, Brazil. To do so he researched the lives of certain immigrants mentioned in the school textbook Snips of Old São Paulo, which severely downgrades the historical role that they played in Brazil. The artist established contact with their descendants through an action that is common among Amerindian peoples – the exchange – collecting objects texts, documents and photos in order to form a portrait of their divergent histories. Leguy then partially covered these objects, documents and photographs with a white line, suggesting erasure or disappearance, the sanitation of brutality and history, and indigenous and migrant history that are simplified or expurgated in the official narrative.
For the Istanbul Biennial, Leguy extends his Brazil project with an investigation of Turkey’s migratory flows. His work centres on a library, coffee shop and bookstore called The Pages in the Fener neighbourhood of Istanbul, one of the city’s oldest districts. The shop contains Arabic translations of Western novels, as well as Syrian books, and in the wake of the Arab Spring as well as the civil war in Syria, its café has become a meeting point for young Arab exiles, such as Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans and Yemenis. Leguy is interested in Fener as a crossroads of history, exile and cultural transfer in a country that is experiencing the influx of 3.5 million Syrian refugees. For his contribution to the Istanbul Biennial, he is inviting people whom he met at this bookshop and café to exchange an object with him, or to give him one they want to get rid of. These objects are again partially painted white, recalling conditions of symbolic invisibility, and the whitewashing of information, narratives and histories.