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)

Exhibition: In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain – Larissa Sansour (by Mara Sprengel)

Exhibition:
In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain
Larissa Sansour

New Art Exchange, 31-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham
15 January – 13 March 2016

by Mara Sprengel

Larissa Mansour

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 [1] 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 [2] 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!

Notes:
[1] Arabic for ‘steadfastness’ although the wider Palestinian implications of the term are linked to themes of resistance.
[2] Pattern taken from a scarf which is synonymous with Palestinian nationalism.

Further reading:
 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)