Mohamed, a seemingly banal portrait, imbued with tremendous tenderness, of a homeless man – and through him, of our besmirched humanity. The subject is pointing to a small tattoo on his fore-arm. The gesture joins a long tradition by referring to Doubting Thomas’s incredulity. It invites us into an intimacy that is being shared spontaneously, in the moment, but also not to be fooled by it. This image shows a current reality. Here the body powerfully expresses something that was experienced by both the subject and the artist who met and accompanied him: an experience that the latter wanted to share with us. It is a disenchanted representation of the body that exposes the subject’s suffering, and his humanity. This portrait reveals a fragile body, one that has been mistreated by life, a body that suddenly seems obvious because it exposes the other, it “is” the other. The other afterwards – after we have accepted them into our concept of humanity, of our own humanity. With this image, Paolo Topy enlarges the meaning of representation into a more global phenomenon: precariousness and exclusion. He insists that we notice this issue – a dramatic social reality – that we can’t ignore or doubt the existence of, and which should spark, not our compassion but our political conscience as citizens, i.e. the determination to work together to come up with a unified response to the issues and challenges we are faced with as a society.

Yves Peltier

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