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In Edgelanders, artists Ehsan Fardjadniya and Raul Balai are building a fictional case against the city of Amsterdam, based on the position that the city must provide unconditional housing for all, including the “undocumented.”

The artists seek to put Amsterdam on trial for its lack of dignified housing for refugees and asylum seekers, despite its duties under the 2014 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. In the landmark decision, the EU court ruled for the plaintiffs - a group of undocumented individuals living in a deteriorating garage in the outskirts of Amsterdam - requiring unconditional access to bed, bath, and bread. However, the city council’s imposition of "begeleiding", or guidance, added a layer of bureaucratic mandates which further complicate securing access to shelter and challenge the city’s ethical image as a progressive safe haven. 

“How many times do we show our wounds to change the law?”

The project is structured as a court case, with distinct chapters mirroring gathering evidence, hearing witnesses, and forming an indictment. In October 2023, Fardjadniya and Balai presented Part I at the Amsterdam Museum. The Background was an installation comprised of a materialized timeline of the story of Souleyman, a friend of the artists who came to the Netherlands as a teenager and who still has not received residence documents, and an interview with human rights lawyer Pim Fischer, who represented the plaintiffs in the 2014 case. Part II, The Hearing, was presented at Podium Mozaïek as a performance theater piece and roundtable conversation with undocumented migrants, lawyers, and the artists. 

“Because I don’t have a piece of paper, I don’t have basic needs.”

Part III, The Witnesses, displays recorded interviews with undocumented individuals, arranged on six screens in a physical installation of narrow hallways and meandering stairs constructed from scaffolding and tarps. The physical experience evokes the complex and often frustrating processes facing undocumented individuals, who share their stories as testimony for the forthcoming indictment. Their narratives remind viewers of the performativity often demanded by law and welfare services, and the shortcomings of the legal system to recognize the dignity of those who most need protection. The Witnesses importantly centers the voices of the marginalized, thereby provoking reflection on truth-telling, reconciliation, and accountability. 

Experience it yourself

Edgelanders: Amsterdam on Trial / Part III: The Witnesses is on view at de Appel until June 4, 2024. On May 18, artists Ehsan Fardjadniya and Raul Balai will host a symposium, On the Limits of the Law and People’s Tribunals, focused on engaging art in the work of social justice. 

Edgelanders: Amsterdam on Trial will continue as a public tribunal in 2025, Amsterdam’s 750th anniversary.