2. Alaa Abu Asad

The Dog Chased its Tail To Bite it Off

by Alaa Abu Asad

14 Apr 2023
13 Apr 2025

On a planet where the "native" status is a rare claim, Palestinian artist Alaa Abu Asad wonders which botanical species are acknowledged as legitimate inhabitants of nation states. While others will forever remain disregarded as aliens. How do we show the importance of language in this opposition and what influence it has on our relationship to other species?


The Dog Chased its Tail To Bite it Off - by Alaa Abu Asad Jiyoung Lee

On the brick wall in the restaurant of Mediamatic ETEN you will find an adaptation of artist Alaa Abu Asad’s ongoing project 'The Dog Chased Its Tail To Bite It Off'. Struck by the intensity of the language used around the plant, Abu Asad has spent five years compiling a list of nearly 400 words that are used to refer to the Japanese knotweed.

The violent nature of the terms bears resemblance to the derogatory language often directed towards human migrants. Occasionally it is vaguely reminiscent of a military jargon encouraging battle against a national threat. 

The role humans play in transforming a simple plant into a ‘harmful evil’ can easily be overlooked. The Japanese Knotweed did not spontaneously migrate to Europe, but was imported and introduced to the continent by people. Furthermore, it is human-induced climate change that has created favorable circumstances for its growth and propagation.

The phenomenon of 'invasive species' can teach us a lot about human nature. We tend to value new things highly as long as they serve a purpose and meet our needs. But when that usefulness fades or becomes a threat to our own welfare, we quickly abandon it and may even be willing to destroy it. Here, we end up in a futile cycle to eradicate the plant, as nervous dogs that chase their own tail.

With “The Dog Chased Its Tail To Bite It Off”, Abu Asad calls for new modes of interacting with our surroundings that go beyond an utilitarian approach and embrace instead inclusivity and respect. By investing time and imagination we can discover ways of coexistence with the Japanese Knotweed, rather than expending resources on developing methods to kill it. 


Image of Alaa Abu Asad -

Alaa Abu Asad

Artist Alaa Abu Asad does ongoing research on unwanted species, mainly known as invasive species. The research traces the violent, xenophobic speech used to describe the Japanese knotweed and its parallel plants in the language often used to describe human migrants—a language that reveals the current human condition. It also imagines alternative ways of living with these species by raising questions about (mass) production ethics and (exploitative) forms of economy.

Alaa Abu Asad has created a mural at Mediamatic showcasing the language used to describe Japanese knotweed.


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Alaa Abu Asad, Self portrait(s) between Sakhalin and Japanese knotweeds in Ghent, 2022 - Alaa Abu Asad