Response to Simon Faulkner, ‘Constructing Pallywood: Photography, veracity, and denigration in Israel/Palestine’, 16 March 2016
by George Coleby
4 May 2016
George Coleby is a second year on NTU’s BA International Relations and is a student intern at the Postcolonial Studies Centre in Spring 2016.
Political Art in Palestine
Dr Simon Faulkner, senior lecturer in Art History at the Manchester School of Art, visited NTU’s Postcolonial Studies Centre and gave an enlightening lecture on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict through the lens of visual art and photography. In both the contemporary and ancient worlds, The Levant has been the host of intense factional fighting as well as deep divisions along religious, cultural and ethnic lines. Today, the regional dispute is still ongoing as the modern states of Israel and Palestine repeatedly clash, both socially and violently, making headlines and front page images the world over. This cultural collision has created resounding ripples in the fields of art and photography that exist within the troubled region, shaping the experiences of the people who live inside it.
Tel Aviv based artist David Reeb has witnessed this struggle first hand and reflects his experiences in his work. His 1997 painting ‘All the Colours of the Rainbow’ features an image of Israeli tanks patrolling the West Bank city of Ramallah, above a second image of British sculptor, Henry Moore’s, three piece sculpture outside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, highlighting the contrast between the region’s instability and its lesser recognised high culture. The two scenes are separated by a straight black line invoking a stark commentary on the strict political divisions of the historic land and the typical experiences of Israelis and Palestinians living on either side of the area’s physical as well as more intangible divides. Dr Faulkner commented on how Reeb has rejected the term ‘political artist’ stating that his paintings are not constructed as clear-cut political statements but rather as a more complex representation of his own experiences, thereby challenging the idea that the connection between politics and art is a straightforward relationship.
Many artists and culture-makers have labelled these works of art as a form of activism and protest against the region’s struggles, in an attempt to bring to light the themes of occupation, displacement and segregation. Palestinian artist, Khaled Hourani, embodied these ideals in his project ‘Picasso in Palestine’ in which he successfully established the loan of Pablo Picasso’s ‘Buste de Femme’ from Van Abbemuseum in The Netherlands to the then widely unknown International Academy of Art-Palestine in Ramallah, in Israeli occupied West Bank. Loaning a piece as significant as an original Picasso is usually only reserved for the world’s highest profile museums and galleries, so to bring it to occupied Palestine has been called a supreme act of protest and legitimacy for the unrecognised state.
The international collective, ActiveStills, is a community of photographers and documenters based in Israel and Palestine, who use their talents as a vehicle to promote social and political change in the region. ActiveStills have archived many images and accounts of protest, demonstration and violence between Palestinian activists and Israeli authorities in cities such as Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Bil’in. One such account from the outskirts of Bethlehem detailed the passage of hundreds of Palestinian workers through a checkpoint in the wall that separates them from Jerusalem. These restrictions to non-Israeli communities have generated protests in West Bank border towns, most notably in Bil’in where the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) was regularly deployed to quell demonstrations that had escalated into violence. Dr Faulkner spoke of how the images taken by ActiveStills were being used by protestors on both sides of the conflict in an effort to achieve social justice.
As it is, it seems the historic region’s troubles show no signs of abating, however due to the efforts of these few artists and gallerists the social consequences and the individual experiences of the people directly affected by it, will be preserved. The authenticity of the conflict as it will inevitably be portrayed by international media outlets and social networks, will be protected from alterations for political agendas or factional propaganda, by these true to life images and works. Dr Faulkner illustrated how the relationship between art and politics is two sided, as it is the international crisis that largely inspired the aforementioned artists and their pieces but also as the art and high culture can be used as a vessel for social justice in the region’s turbulent political battleground.