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PARIS — A backlit sign proclaiming “Welcome to Baghdad” greets visitors at the Espace Louis Vuitton gallery here, the first indication the luxury giant isn’t shy of troubled destinations — or subjects — for its rotating series of exhibitions themed around travel.
Works on display on the top floor of Vuitton’s Champs Elysées flagship include a video of a young girl learning to speak Arabic from flashcards with words like “car bomb” and “mass grave,” and photos of destroyed buildings in Afghanistan painted white, the color of mourning in Islam.
Titled “Orient Sans Frontières,” or “Orient Without Borders,” the exhibit was inspired by a fabled French expedition in 1931, when special Vuitton-outfitted Citroen cars made a daring trek of discovery from Beirut to Beijing. Dispatches from the road were broadcast on the radio daily, and National Geographic documented the discoveries.
Curator Hervé Mikaeloff decided to turn the tables and let contemporary artists from stops along the route give lucid and critical views about where their countries are today. “We wanted to keep this spirit of adventure,” he said.
Iraqi artist Adel Abidin, who made the Baghdad sign, also created a video showing a seven-year-old girl scooping up fragments of broken pavement — perhaps after an explosion — with plastic spoons as a peace song plays in the background.
While many of the works are chilling and upsetting — amidst a minimalist set design by India Madhavi — most have an undercurrent of hope as plain as the bright smile on a young girl posing among the ruins of her village in Lebanon in a photo by Amal Saade.
Links to fashion are tenuous, although Chinese artist Yin Xiuzhen’s sculptures employ second-hand clothes purchased on trips that she transforms and displays in open suitcases. The exhibit runs through April 27.