In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain
New Art Exchange, 31-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham
15 January – 13 March 2016
I begin with a disclaimer: I am enamoured with the work of Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour. This lends this piece a certain amount of bias which, to be honest, I am not entirely unhappy about!
Sansour’s work is interdisciplinary. She uses film, photography, installation and sculpture through which she interrogates questions of Palestinian nationhood, territory and identity. Confronted with a situation often described as Kafka-esque or unreal, a hostile present of bureaucratic restrictions of movement and heavily controlled land, resources and airspace, and an increasingly contested past, Sansour turns to the genre of sci-fi in order to further distort reality and to attempt to answer the ‘question’ of Palestine. The collection currently being shown at the New Art Exchange comprises three films: A Space Exodus (2009), Nation Estate (2012) and In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2015). Film stills and sculpture installations, including a gang of Palestinauts (2010) which scamper up the walls, offer variety to the exhibition. A poster ‘advertising’ Nation Estate parodies Franz Kraus’ iconic 1936 ‘Visit Palestine’ image, destabilising its intended Zionist and orientalist notions. The works are ideally displayed on black walls which serve to focus attention on the screens and well-lit sculptures whilst also creating an intimacy which envelopes the viewer.
With a running time of just over five minutes, A Space Exodus (2009) is the shortest of the three films. We journey with Sansour as she travels to the moon in order to claim an alternative homeland space for the Palestinians. Elements of traditional Palestinian culture are cleverly intertwined with dominant narratives of space exploration and expansionism. Such narratives, often Western and masculine, are challenged and subverted here by a Middle Eastern female astronaut striking out on her own to claim territory for her people.
Set in a near-future dystopia, Sansour’s Nation Estate (2012) provides a witty but surreal ‘solution’ to Palestinian claims for a nation state and counters the issue of ever-diminishing space in the West Bank. Palestinian sumud  and resolute refusal to leave their ancestral homeland has been nightmarishly re-envisioned and as the film progresses we see that a grotesque paradoxical compromise to the issue of territoriality and land ownership in Israel/Palestine has been reached. The Palestinians remain in-situ and maintain a very visible presence in the landscape. However their location is absolute and they are intensely surveilled, ghettoised and prevented from moving outside of a very defined and specific space. All opportunities for contact between Israelis and Palestinians have been removed and the very essence of Palestinian life has been neatly compartmentalised into a sterile and internationalised space. Palestinian identity has been reduced to a series of motifs which figure throughout the short film, with monuments and relics reproduced in a form of Disneyfication, providing a stark contrast to the reality of the occasionally visible ancient landscape ‘outside’.
The confusion of tenses in the title In The Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2015) indicates a temporal disruption and, as we travel through time with a self-proclaimed ‘narrative terrorist’, we begin to understand why. As she distributes shards of porcelain decorated with a keffiyeh  pattern throughout space and time for future generations to discover, the protagonist seeks to write the Palestinians not only into history but also into time. The viewer is responsible for piecing together the narrative which is offered in the form of layers of historical photographs, film, visual tropes and an oral soundtrack. This allows the film to examine the role of fiction in history and in doing so not only challenges accepted notions of truth and historical entitlement to land but also subverts archaeological strategies utilised by Israeli authorities to legitimise claims to land.
Sansour’s use of sci-fi to produce meaningful and intensely politicised works enables the creation of a potentially limitless and liberating cultural space through which Palestinian identity can be renegotiated and considered. The highly polished aesthetic of her films results in a beauty, despite the disquieting subject matter, and the use of Hollywood tropes and references in her work facilitates cultural interconnectivity and a crossing of boundaries. When the three films are viewed as a collection, ideally in chronological order, you can chart the progression and development of Sansour’s ideas which are crystallised in the final film. I can’t wait to see where her next project leads her and I urge you to take the opportunity to see Sansour’s inventive and challenging work whilst it’s in Nottingham. She will be discussing her practice with curator and critic Nat Muller on 26th February 2015. See you there!
 Arabic for ‘steadfastness’ although the wider Palestinian implications of the term are linked to themes of resistance.
 Pattern taken from a scarf which is synonymous with Palestinian nationalism.
Larissa Sansour http://www.larissasansour.com/index.html
New Art Exchange http://www.nae.org.uk/exhibition/larissa-sansour-in-the-future-they-ate/96
Makhoul, Bashir, ed., Palestinian Video Art: Constellation of the Moving Image (Palestinian Art Court – al Hoash: Jerusalem, 2013)
Dabashi, Hamid, Dreams of a Nation: On Palestinian Cinema (Verso: London, 2007)
Gertz, Nurith and George Khleifi, Palestinian Cinema: Landscape, Trauma, and Memory (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2008)
Representations of Postcolonial Identity and Universal Issues in Perivi Katjavivi’s ‘The Unseen’
Response to filmmaker Perivi Kajavivi’s visit and post-production film screening at NTU, 11 November 2015
by Beth Evans, BA English, 14 January 2016
Representations of Postcolonial Identity and Universal Issues in Perivi Katjavivi’s ‘The Unseen’.
As one of the lucky few able to view of a number of scenes and speak with Perivi Katjavivi about his upcoming film, ‘The Unseen’, scheduled to premiere in February 2016 at the Pan African Film Festival, I am excited to watch the film in its entirety as soon as it is available. ‘The Unseen’, which Katjavivi suggests should be understood as a ‘blending of fiction and documentary’, explores the liminal spaces of present day Namibia and follows three seemingly dissimilar characters as they experience the authentic and lesser-seen realities of the country.
With little else in common, the characters Marcus, an African-American aspiring actor, Sara, a traveller who is contemplating committing suicide, and Anu, a musician caught between Namibian traditions and Western rap, all experience a state of what Katjavivi refers to as ‘internal flux’. ‘The Unseen’ follows its protagonists through their processes of self-identification as they face frustration and anxiety at the feeling of existing in two places at once. Katjavivi suggests that the characters do represent a ‘postcolonial identity’, which he clarifies by referring to Homi Bhabha’s concept of ‘ambivalence’ or the dual identity of the colonised other, though he is hesitant to accept the suggestion that his film is purely representative of Namibia’s postcolonial experience. Instead, Katjavivi suggests that ‘The Unseen’ should be understood as an ‘honest film’ about individual experiences which tie together to display universal issues.
This idea is gloriously evident in the enticing opening scene, in which we are almost painfully slowly drawn into the world of the film and its characters. The introductory shot presents us with an eerily empty and peaceful road, interjected with shadows. The setting is unknown and the shadows mask the characters’ identities. By concealing this information, the film immediately achieves a sense of universality through its refusal to offer any answers to the questions of where we are and who were are watching. The slow pace of the opening and its lack of dialogue are deeply enticing, enhanced only by the eventual close-ups of the characters’ faces which draw us into their very personal lives. Besides leaving me desperately wanting to watch more, it seems apparent from this opening that Katjavivi is keen to establish his film as one which concerns the individual experiences of life in Namibia.
Western audiences, Katjavivi explains, do not often allow themselves to think of Africa in terms of economy, relationships, and career and generally fixate on trying to find representations of colonialism and postcolonialism within African art. This discussion leads Katjavivi to express concern over the extent to which film should engage with social and political issues. The filmmaker recognises that colonialism is a part of Africa’s past and present and should therefore be addressed through film and other arts, but he does not believe it should be at the forefront of all African art. Katjavivi defends his stance with the persuasive argument that ‘a German filmmaker is just a filmmaker, no one else is burdened with this.’ However, Katjavivi eagerly offers areas in which his film does tackle the issue of postcolonial representation.
For example, Katjavivi explains that he wanted ‘The Unseen’ to be an authentic representation of Namibian life, rather than one shadowed by Western ideas of an underdeveloped Africa. The filmmaker achieves this through a number of techniques. The decision to film in black and white, for example, destabilises the stereotypical image of Africa as always brightly coloured and vibrant and offers an opposing image to consider. Katjavivi also filmed improvised scenes with real people, rather than actors, within the liminal spaces of Namibia, which creates a documentary-like feel for ‘The Unseen’ and presents its audiences with the realities of the country. Tackling universal issues within the context of Namibia through his film sounds like an exciting and emotional journey for Katjavivi, and I am thoroughly looking forward to watching the full film.
Beth Evans is a third year English undergraduate at NTU, undertaking a Dissertation on Black British writing and the UK publishing industry.