Palestinian in/visibility – Response to Simon Faulkner, ‘Constructing Pallywood: Photography, veracity, and denigration in Israel/Palestine’ (by Mara Sprengel)

Response to Simon Faulkner, ‘Constructing Pallywood: Photography, veracity, and denigration in Israel/Palestine’

by Mara Sprengel

29 May 2016

The built environment of Israel sustains the Occupation of Palestine physically and ideologically. It ensures that the Israeli gaze is redirected or interrupted via a series of physical structures and mechanisms of control, manifestations of Occupation which seek to ensure Palestinian in/visibility. Hilltop settlements survey a subjugated landscape, the Separation Wall slices through urban and rural space, and roads, underpasses and bridges facilitate Israeli movement. Meanwhile the Palestinian gaze is focussed absolutely on the Occupation, recording and witnessing, and, potentially, resisting. By manipulating visibility through the considered organisation of space, a hierarchy of visuality is created and maintained, one which controls who and what can and should be seen by whom. Subject to the militarised gaze of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), placed under surveillance with their movement and visibility closely monitored, the Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories become hyper-visible however, paradoxically, they are visibly absent from the day-to-day lives of the Israeli population. In Visual Occupations (2015), Gil Z. Hochberg refers to this as Palestinian ‘visible invisibility.’1 This paradox of Palestinian visibility privileges Israeli experience, allowing an imbalance. Whilst Palestinians endure significant exposure to the Occupation, it is largely concealed from the Israeli population, which in turn reinforces Israeli public opinion which is already influenced by an increasingly oppressive mainstream media.

Simon Faulkner discussed a number of artistic and photographic projects which explore, expose and attempt to reframe the politics of in/visibility at play in Israel/Palestine. Focussing on the Activestills collective, a group of Israeli, Palestinian and international photographers who ‘believe in the power of images to shape public attitudes’ and seek to ‘raise awareness on issues that are generally absent from public discourse’ the talk enabled a consideration of visual rights and the ways in which these maintain the Occupation.2  The street exhibition  projects undertaken by Activestills attempt to promote interaction between two polarised populations that are deliberately segregated and in doing so aim to challenge both nationalist ideologies and ways of seeing. Photographs of Palestinian experiences of the Occupation are presented in either public spaces or inside institutions such as colleges, thus enabling a hyper-visible representation of the dangerous ‘other.’ Visual images are presented on paper which renders the projects participatory, the impermanence of the material inviting viewers to deface, destroy or even remove the works. Activestills have found that the reception of their projects varies greatly. Reactions are often violent and confrontational, indicating the emotive power of the visual image to illicit immediate reaction. The images are sometimes considered an affront to Israel, or even, where the photographer is Israeli, as unpatriotic or as an act of treason. Some viewers deny their ‘truthfulness’ and accuse the photographers of falsifying or manipulating their images (and of course, as much as a photographer attempts to maintain impartiality, they are always subject to the potential of bias) whereas some viewers wanted to engage further and to open a dialogue. Such projects operate in a liminal space, one which provides a glimpse of the Palestinian unseen, and as such consideration of the ethics of the visual image, particularly in terms of their portrayal of Palestinian suffering to an Israeli audience, should be considered.

Simon Faulkner also discussed Khaled Hourani and Rashid Masharawi’s documentary film Picasso in Palestine (2012), the culmination of a project which bought Picasso’s painting Buste de Femme (1943) to a purpose built exhibition space in Ramallah. The film follows the processes involved in the transportation of a famed work of art. The series of administrative and institutional hurdles that must be overcome in the ‘real world’ where such undertakings occur regularly, the customs, the security, the insurances, are intensified by Israeli Occupation as Palestine is an unrecognised state with no control over its own borders. The entire process associated with the displaying of the painting in turn informed Hourani’s practice and he essentially managed to overcome the Occupation, albeit briefly. This project brings to mind Omar al-Qattan’s a short documentary film entitled Diary of an Art Competition (Under Curfew) (2003) which saw a group of artists in Ramallah curate a group exhibition during the ‘Second Intifada’3 despite IDF curfews. A number of Gazan artists also participated in the exhibition, submitting their work via diplomatic pouches as they were prohibited from travelling. Both projects resulted in engaging filmic works which circumvent and challenge the restrictions of Occupation.

 

Notes:

[1] Gil Z. Hochberg, Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015), p. 163.

2 ‘About Us’, <http://www.activestills.org/about.php&gt; [accessed 15/05/2016

3 The ‘Second Intifada’ or ‘uprising’ was an extended period of intensified violence in Israel/Palestine categorised by an attempted Palestinian uprising against Israeli Occupation.

Further reading:

Hochberg, Gil Z., Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015)

Weizman, Eyal, Hollow Land (London: Verso, 2007)

Response to Simon Faulkner, ‘Constructing Pallywood: Photography, veracity, and denigration in Israel/Palestine’ (by George Coleby)

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.

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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.

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