HopeRoad Prize for Postcolonial Literary Studies

New prize: The HopeRoad Prize for Postcolonial Literary Studies

We are delighted to announce that we have welcomed HopeRoad publishers as the newest sponsor of one of our prizes awarded to graduating students in English who demonstrate excellence in specialist fields. HopeRoad provide a generous £50 in books from their catalogue to be divided between the two students whose work demonstrates the best originality and rigour in the field of postcolonial literary studies. Students will be nominated for the prize by their lecturers, and the prize will be awarded at graduation.

HopeRoad Publishing is an exciting, independent publisher, vigorously supporting voices too often neglected by the mainstream. We are promoters of literature with a special focus on Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. At the heart of our publishing is the love of outstanding writing from writers you, the reader, would have otherwise missed.

http://hoperoadpublishing.com/

HopeRoad writers include Pete Kalu, Jean Goulbourne, Maggie Harris, and Jeremy Cameron.


The prize will reward the successful students with some fascinating new reading for the summer but more importantly, the prize will signal exceptional ability in a specialist field which may have a positive impact on applications for Masters courses and funding, PhD research and research funding, and employment. HopeRoad are also looking for new writers to publish: who knows, some of our winners (and, of course, other students and staff) may even go on to publish their academic or creative work with HopeRoad!

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Response to Neelam Srivastava, ‘Fashioning the Anti-Colonial Narrative: Literary Pan-Africanism and Claude McKay’s “Great Ethiopian Novel”’ (18 January 2017) by Keeley Jones

Response to Neelam Srivastava, ‘Fashioning the Anti-Colonial Narrative: Literary Pan-Africanism and Claude McKay’s “Great Ethiopian Novel”’

18 January 2017

by Keeley Jones

Dr Neelam Srivastava of Newcastle University highlighted the particularities of Italian colonialism and its relationship with Pan-Africanism, particularly as this is considered to be a somewhat neglected part of colonial history. Italian colonialism in east Africa contributed to Pan-Africanism, a global movement which encourages solidarity and unity amongst diasporic communities of African descent. In her discussion, Dr Srivastava outlined Italian colonial discourse and the large Italian settler working community in Ethiopia.

Dr Srivastava continued to explore how this invasion impacted on Black and diasporic communities in Harlem in particular, as she emphasised that Black identity does not simply exist in national contexts. Afrocentrism, the ideology that focuses on the history of Black Africans and how they contributed to Western civilisation, prompted many like Claude McKay to write back against racial prejudice from an anti-colonial perspective. Written in 1941 and to be published later this year, McKay’s recovered, unfinished novel Amiable with Big Teeth creates new recognition of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and regards it as an important historical event. Dr Srivastava spoke highly of his work, of his interpretation of communism, and his aim to recover Ethiopia as a focal point for Black identity and race consciousness. This Afrocentric narrative succeeds in analysing how people perceive communism and the struggle in Black diasporic communities.

Concluding the seminar, Dr Srivastava encouraged people to question the differences between African American diasporas and other diasporic communities, additionally highlighting that whilst anti-colonialism longs for true freedom, it is not without its struggles. The importance of unity and solidarity amongst diasporic communities is emphasised via the abandonment of the term ‘negro’, as this was a slave given name. Whilst slavery will always be a part of Black history, it is a lesson to be learned from: it does not define them or the nation.

Moreover, the significant links between the invasion of Ethiopia and the forming of Pan-Africanism become more apparent. In an anti-colonial narrative, Claude McKay offers a unique insight into the impact that somewhat underestimated historical events have had.

Keeley Jones is a second year student on BA (Hons) English at NTU. In Spring 2017, Keeley undertook work placement at the Postcolonial Studies Centre.

Review: Open Mic Poetry Evening – City Global Lounge (by Keeley Jones)

Review: Open Mic Poetry Evening, City Global Lounge

3 March 2017

by Keeley Jones

 

Throughout Global Week at Nottingham Trent University, different cultures are explored in order to celebrate diversity and raise awareness about important global issues. With events of all kinds taking place, the open mic poetry evening allowed people the opportunity to deliver their work in celebration of global week. Organised by Kyle Hutchinson and held in the city global lounge by the Creative Writing Society, issues were raised regarding identity and our place in the world, as well providing a refreshing opportunity to meet new people of different backgrounds.

Opening with a poem centred around urban living, the first performer focused largely on the small, mundane details of everyday life and its repetitive cycle, such as each minor action taken to make a cup of tea, the amount of sugar added, and the sound of the spoon hitting against the mug. Whilst this is not only designed to depict the life of an individual in Western society, it introduced the idea of the self as a mere fragment in a small world. Subsequently, the audience was encouraged to question this perspective, or rather challenge the cosmopolitan view that we are all a part of the same large world.

Themes of identity and cultural heritage were explored throughout the rest of the performances, outlining western privilege. ‘A Citizen of Nowhere’, written by Chris Page, critiqued the ignorance of Western society for its lack of knowledge and interest in other cultures. It was argued that too many people are oblivious to the issues around them, and that we are not able to label ourselves as citizens of the world when we don’t know enough about the world itself. This theme became more prominent throughout the evening, highlighting the importance of appreciating other cultures and individual backgrounds. Additionally, some poems even portrayed the struggles within a diasporic community from personal experience, and how this impacts an individual’s sense of identity: there are certain expectations based on where you come from, where you associate as ‘home’ and how others in society perceive this. These issues were highlighted and portrayed in a new light, both expressing inner feelings and writing back against cultural stereotypes.

In a large but intimate group of people from different backgrounds, performers were given a space to express their own experiences and how these have been affected by the issues that Global Week aims to raise awareness of. For those not necessarily engaged in Global affairs and the cultural issues that occur in societies every day, the open mic evening succeeded in raising awareness about Postcolonial issues and their overall individual experiences.

Keeley Jones is a second year student on BA (Hons) English at NTU. In Spring 2017, Keeley undertook work placement at the Postcolonial Studies Centre.

Response to ‘Palestine in the Popular Imagination: From Refugees to Negotiators’ (Dr Anastasia Valassopoulos, 22 March 2017) by Georgia Stabler

Dr Anastasia Valassopoulos

‘Palestine in the Popular Imagination: From Refugees to Negotiators’

22 March 2017

by Georgia Stabler

Valassopoulos

As part of the School of Arts and Humanities English Research Seminar Series Nottingham Trent University welcomed Dr Anastasia Valassopulos, a lecturer in post 1945 world literature at the University of Manchester. Anastasia’s area of research includes postcolonial literature and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. She is also particularly interested in the wider cultural production and reception of Arab women’s film and music. She has worked and published on the revolutionary cinema of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and on the role of Egyptian popular culture in revolutionary contexts. Anastasia’s talk was a highly anticipated event for NTU’s School of Arts and Humanities, not only because of her many notable publications including her first monograph Contemporary Arab Women Writers, but also because she was the PhD supervisor of several faculty members in our very own English department who specialise in postcolonial studies!

Anastasia Valassopoulos’s most recent long term research project maps a visual cultural history of Palestine. The project’s most recent working title is Palestine in the Popular Imagination and it centres on the exploration of materials that established and instituted ways in which Palestine’s continuous presence in the visual imaginary was coordinated. Principally, it aims to investigate how Palestine is perceived, discussed, and consumed in the broader popular imagination.

The project has been organised into four major conceptual eras:

Palestine as the Holy Land (1918-1948)

The Palestinian Refugee (1947-1960s)

Icons of Activism (1960s-1970s)

Cultures of Negotiation (1978-9 & 1993-5)

Visit Palestine

Within these sections that Anastasia outlined in her talk, she explores a wide range of materials including examples of global and international photojournalism, poster art, film, documentary, cartography, photography, and creative outputs produced by humanitarian organizations which have all contributed in creating the lasting images associated with Palestine in the twentieth century. Guiding the investigation of these materials are the socio-cultural moments (listed above) that have framed the presentation of these images. Organised in this way, Anastasia connects the emergence of creative, visual interpretations of Palestine with pertinent political contexts in order to explore the ways in which the Palestinian landscape has been configured within the public imagination. The project investigates Palestine as the Holy Land and the scene of biblical epics; scriptural archaeology at work; information and ‘aid’ films in the run up to partition and the construction of the refugee; the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); activist cinema and the films of the PLO; cultural representation of international terrorism and finally the visual cultures of ‘negotiation’ and the peace accords. The materials that Anastasia drew attention to in her talk have all played a significant part in the cementing of various iconic visual moments, from poster art through to biblical epics inaugurated in early cinema. They present Palestine as a location of historical and geographical significance, the combination of these artistic and archaeological materials have produced a memorable though highly stylised vision of Palestine as a category primed to accommodate disparate global socio-political needs.

Exodus still

I was particularly struck by Anastasia’s engagement with the idea of scriptural geography and how the landscape of Palestine as the holy land is largely understood and depicted in early Western cinema through biblical images. The talk included film clips of the 1947 documentary Portrait of Palestine which makes the connection between communities of Arab peasants and the bible, likening the fishing nets used by the peasants to the ones Jesus’s disciples fished with, for example. In another clip, taken from the 1960 Hollywood film Exodus Ari Ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman) asks Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint) if she ‘knew her bible’ whilst the pair sit on a Palestinian hillside. He then goes on to point out different areas in view, referencing locations and describing their significance in biblical stories and imagery, thus profiling the area as site of religious and historical importance. The clip provided one example of how Palestine is perceived in the cultural imaginary as the ‘Holy land’, and how external representations of the landscape rely on scriptural geography which is then mapped onto actual locations and living communities. For me, the talk and the materials Anastasia discussed highlighted how Palestine is treated by adherents of Abrahamic religions as a physical manifestation of their faith and made me consider the Arab-Israeli conflict from a different perspective. It also raised some interesting and complex questions concerning concepts of ownership, sovereignty and reflected upon broader issues of colonial enterprise.

Anastasia’s project brings together for the first time a set of symbolic and iconic images and themes that have dominated the visualisation of Palestine internationally in the twentieth century, and also explores their associated values that characterize the sustained and uninterrupted centrality of Palestine in the popular imagination.

 

Critical Interventions: Home, Belonging and Krísis (by Sofia Aatkar and Richard Bromhall)

A response to ‘Krísis: Critical Interventions’ symposium (Friday 29th October)

30 November 2016

Critical Interventions: Home, Belonging and Krísis

By Sofia Aatkar and Richard Bromhall

The art exhibition, Krísis, is curated by Something Human,[1] and is presented in collaboration with Nottingham Trent University, Bonington Gallery and Nottingham Contemporary. The exhibition runs from Thursday 28th October 2016 – Friday 9th December 2016, and explores how art and performance can approach questions such as ‘how can we use states of crisis as a way to rethink the future?’[2] ‘Krísis: Critical Interventions’ was part of a series of events linked to the art exhibition. This one-day symposium (Friday 29th October) included performative lectures, and talks by artists and invited speakers about how states of social, political or cultural crisis are addressed and conveyed through artistic expression (including literature and visual culture). Dr Anna Ball, Dr Roy Smith and Professor Duncan Higgins facilitated the talks and mediated conversations throughout the day, and thus helped the speakers to create a collective dialogue about notions of crisis across a broad range of topics. In June 2016, the United Nations refugee agency announced that ‘[t]he number of people displaced by conflict is at the highest level ever recorded’,[3] and subsequently, a discourse has emerged within the media surrounding what has been dubbed ‘Europe’s migrant crisis’.[4] In this vein, the present blog post will specifically consider the talks which explored how issues of displacement and homelessness are represented within literature and the media, and concludes by discussing some of the issues raised in the talk by representatives from Nottingham Refugee Forum (NRF).

Veronika Schuchter, a visiting scholar at Nottingham Trent University, analysed notions of home in contemporary travel culture and literature. Schuchter began by highlighting the slippery nature of the term ‘home’, stating that it can refer to a physical and highly ritualised space of dwelling, or an abstract space which can evoke a sense of belonging. She observed how companies like Easy Jet and Airbnb capitalise on their customers’ dependence on the notion of home, as their adverts paradoxically encourage people to leave their homes and travel whilst simultaneously reassuring them that they can inhabit a homely space once they reach their destination. These companies, it seems, have created a new travel culture whereby the traveller can – quite literally in the case of Airbnb – experience a home away from home. Part of this homely experience, Schuchter argued, is linked to (and might be dictated by) the traveller’s ability to connect to Wi-Fi at their destination, and thus she proposed that, in a contemporary context, home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically. This observation suggests that modern technology has influenced how the ‘selfie generation’ conceptualise the notion of home when they are ‘away’ from home.

Schuchter analysed three contemporary novels – Restlessness (1998) by Aritha van Herk, Hotel World (2001) by Ali Smith and The Embassy of Cambodia (2013) by Zadie Smith – and explored how authors represent the idea of home in their work. By discussing these texts in conjunction, Schuchter emphasised that the notion of home is ambiguous and personal to the individual, as each protagonist creates their own meaning of this highly-contested term. When these texts are read under the rubric of travel literature, it is somewhat unsurprising that each protagonist’s conceptualisation of home is developed through travel, stasis or through their relationship with a hotel. Dorcas, the protagonist in Restlessness, is a compulsive traveller, but she recognises that each time she ventures beyond her home country she is rendered Other. Dorcas chooses to end her own life[5] in the hotel – a space which Schuchter suggested represents home for Dorcas because it provides a sense of stability for her erratic state of mind. The protagonist of Hotel World, Else, is a homeless woman who begs for money outside a hotel in an anonymous British city until she is invited to spend one night in the establishment. Schuchter quoted a particularly poignant passage from the text – one which describes the moment Else peers out of the window in her hotel room and sees ‘her remains; her sleeping bag, her blanket, her day’s takings. Where she sits each day is piled like a mistake, like rubbish, against the edge of the hotel’.[6] Fatou, the protagonist in The Embassy of Cambodia, is a young girl from Ivory Coast, who, Smith implies, is an illegal immigrant in Britain. Over the course of the narrative, we learn that Fatou works as a domestic servant for a family in London; her employers grant her an extremely limited independence and confiscate her passport, which confines Fatou within an intimate domestic setting in which she does not belong. Notions of unbelonging, displacement and homelessness are central to all three of the novels Schuchter discussed. Consequently, the presentation highlighted how literature, as a cultural form, raises questions about home – a space that is often perceived as neutral and unproblematic. Schuchter’s discussion revealed how authors can make states of international crisis, such as migration, register on a personal level by representing these states of emergency through a protagonist. As such, Schuchter showed how figures who are readily cast as Other in xenophobic discourses can be humanised through the medium of literature.

This relationship between media and literature has a prevailing impact on the ways in which refugee experience is articulated in popular discourses in the west. Professor of English at NTU, Phil Leonard’s paper ‘Sacred Shores’ took the refugee crisis as its focus, and in particular, the journeys many refugees undertake from Syria to Greece. The shore, for Leonard, represents a liminal space between the quasi-safety offered by European social apparatuses – that is, the legal, economic, and political structures in any single nation state – and the danger posed by an unwieldy journey across the Aegean Sea. Drawing on various marketing campaigns and adverts, the shore becomes a space in which desperate refugees make contact with loved ones on a mobile phone which glows warmly in the faces of its users. In one advert, and set against a red sunset, the shore conflates the spaces of risk, safety, and tourism, rendering the shore as all of these and, at the same time, neither. But the liminality of the shore raises questions around refugee experiences. When do refugees arrive?, Leonard asks. Is it on the border, some ten miles off the shore; is it when they appear on the beach; or is it when asylum is granted? Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s work, Leonard described the concept of ‘homo sacer’, the figure who has no legal status and is rendered as killable because of it.[7] As such, refugees are placed in this category. Refugees, therefore, are rendered victims in terms of their governments’ misguided political decisions, victims of their own bad judgment – by sailing across turbulent stretches of water in nothing more than a flimsy rubber dinghy – or perhaps by failing to seek asylum closer to home, in neighbouring countries, which does not involve a perilous journey. Most importantly for Leonard, their status as victims is not explained in terms of Western – particularly, European – states’ legal frameworks. In such narratives, the West, in some ways, becomes the victim, rather than the perpetrator of hardship for refugees.

This chimed with NRF’s talk in which they discussed the notion of ‘lives not worthy of living’, a mantra used in Nazi Germany and legitimised in contemporary narratives on the refugee crisis through the (above) concept of homo sacer. This narrative is something the NRF spends some time tackling, not only in the sense of refugees’ own shame because their value is constructed through narratives of deserving and undeserving, but also through narratives that conflate refugees’ status as rivals to working-class British workers. ‘Migrants’, ‘refugees’, ‘immigrants’ and ‘asylum seekers’ are terms which have been used synonymously since the refugee crisis to justify anger towards refugees as those which, so the narrative goes, seek to take housing provision, jobs, and welfare support from ‘deserving’ Britons. Indeed, as one volunteer from the charity put it: ‘The only crisis in the UK is the crisis of poor provision of public services. Refugee crisis is imposed by governments to suit a specific political agenda.’ Such homogenising practices seek to cast those fleeing war as dangerous and undeserving.

The notion of ‘crisis’ has dominated the contemporary era. The ‘Krísis: Critical Interventions’ conference showcased the ways in which cultural forms can shape meaning and offer a lens through which understandings of the contemporary moment can be rationalised, comprehended, and processed. Such cultural forms allow us to wrestle with traumatic events and enable critical approaches that offer potential solutions to – or at least understandings of – the crises with which we are faced. Home, belonging, and the safety concomitant with these concepts is crucial subject matter to understand the challenges the human race must deal with in this cultural moment, and the conference offered a space in which to discuss these events openly.

 

The ‘Krísis’ exhibition is at Bonington Gallery at NTU until 9 December 2016.

 

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998)

BBC, ‘Refugees at highest ever level, reaching 65m, says UN’, BBC News (2016)            <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-36573082 > [accessed 1st November 2016]

Bonington Gallery, ‘Krísis’ (2016) < http://www.boningtongallery.co.uk/exhibitions/krisis >            [accessed 31st October 2016]

Smith, Ali, Hotel World (London: Penguin, 2002)

Something Human, ‘About’ < https://something-human.org/about/ > [accessed 31st October            2016]

 

Sofia Aatkar and Richard Bromhall are AHRC Midlands3Cities funded PhD students in English at Nottingham Trent University

 


[1] Something Human is an independent art curator which focuses on ‘exploring movement and relationships across boundaries, through […] shared multidisciplinary interests in architecture, design, sculpture, mixed media, photography, moving image and performance’. Something Human, ‘About’ < https://something-human.org/about/ > [accessed 31st October 2016] (para. 1 of 1).

[2] Bonington Gallery, ‘Krísis’ (2016) < http://www.boningtongallery.co.uk/exhibitions/krisis > [accessed 31st October 2016] (para. 3 of 7).

[3] BBC, ‘Refugees at highest ever level, reaching 65m, says UN’, BBC News (2016) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-36573082 > [accessed 1st November 2016] (caption under video).

[4] BBC, ‘Refugees at highest ever level’, para. 7 of 18.

[5] Docus pays an assassin to kill her.

[6] Ali Smith, Hotel World (London: Penguin, 2002), p.67.

[7] Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. by Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).

 

‘Dalit Literature: Space and Trauma’, at ECSAS 2016, Warsaw, by Daniel Bilton

‘Dalit Literature: Space and Trauma’, at ECSAS 2016, Warsaw

by Daniel Bilton

September 2016

university-of-warsaw-old-library
Warsaw University Old Library

As the hot midday sun shone down upon the University of Warsaw’s Old Library, ECSAS 2016 sprang into action. This was the twenty-fourth meeting of the European Conference of South Asian Studies, and as one of the organisers noted at the ‘Welcome’ meeting, he was honoured that the university was hosting ECSAS just as much as Krakow was to be hosting the Pope, who was making his first visit to Poland during the same week. This trip to Warsaw, for me, was a trip full of firsts. Not only was this my first trip abroad, but it was also the first time I had attended a conference at this scale, and also my first time presenting a paper at a conference.

My paper, entitled ‘Dalit Literature: Space and Trauma’, was part of panel 43 ‘Dalit writing, caste and space’, organised by NTU’s Dr Nicole Thiara. As the title of the panel suggests, the theme of space was the one that connected the papers together, although every paper was truly unique. The range of papers here was fascinating, with paper topics moving from British Asian literature to Indian graphic novels, and from the depictions of city spaces to the struggles of a small, marginalised communities. My paper can be seen as an extension of my undergraduate dissertation topic, which also looked at Dalit literature and trauma. In this paper, I looked at the connections between trauma and space and analysed various trauma spaces that appear frequently within Dalit literature, such as streets and schools. Interestingly, the majority of these are public spaces. This contrasts with Western ideas of trauma which we usually pair with private spaces. Abuse in Western abuse narratives, for example, normally occurs behind closed doors and away from the public gaze, meaning that it often goes on unnoticed for years. In the Dalit texts that I studied, however, the abuse inflicted by members of the upper castes happens openly in the streets. In one instance, in P. Sivakami’s The Grip of Change, a Dalit woman is physically removed from her home and is beaten in the street by the henchman of her upper caste landlord. As this example shows, the abuse is moved from a private to a public space, firmly rooting Dalit trauma in these spaces.

Due to the vast scale of the conference, it was impossible to visit each and every panel. Amongst some of the panels that I did attend, this idea of space was also discussed in the context of wider Indian literature and society. One paper that I found interesting looked at the surge in popularity of Indian comics, and analysed how the comic form is able to represent the growing modern city space. This focus on comics is interesting, particularly in the light of a paper presented at my panel on graphic novels, as it is a growing form that is being used to present serious questions and concerns. By using this graphic form, writers and artists are able to present issues in a way that reaches younger audiences and is thus able to reach a wider audience. The graphic form is also able to use images to depict things such as city environments, eliminating the need for lengthy scene setting passages. Although moving away from literature, the city environment and its relationship to Dalits was the focus of a paper on a different panel. Here, this presentation focused on city apartment complexes in Hyderabad that are specifically for Dalits. This paper looked at how the Dalits here see the complexes as inferior to the upper caste apartments and that the supermarkets and malls in the surrounding areas are dirty. Although the presenter of this paper acknowledged that the malls in these areas did not include the same upmarket chain stores that the other malls have, she thought that these areas were well maintained. This creates questions into what the actual issues surrounding these sorts of housing developments are. The main issue that was presented here was that they entrench the lack of social mobility for Dalits. If a Dalit were to apply to rent an apartment in a building not specifically for Dalits, they would be denied if the landlord knew of their caste. If a Dalit were to lie about their caste but then is found out to be doing so, they are then evicted from the property.

warsaw-old-town
Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw itself was a city that greatly exceeded my expectations. We landed at an airport that was previously a military air base, and drove forty minutes through the dark city streets with a non-English speaking taxi driver before arriving at our hotel. But as the sun rose the following morning, the beauty of the city was clear to see. The university is nestled within the heart of Warsaw’s Old Town, a beautiful area which comprises old buildings and churches. One of the most striking things about the Old Town is that these old buildings were rebuilt after being completely demolished during World War Two. Architects used the original plans for the buildings so that the rebuild of the area would look exactly as it would have before the war. It is this painstaking attention to detail that has now made the area a world heritage site. As with many places in Poland and this part of Europe, the horrors of the war feel ever present. Throughout the Old Town, one can find numerous war memorials and tributes to the soldiers that died during the war. You are also able to walk the old perimeter of the Warsaw ghetto via maps available at tourist spots. Although I only had time to walk a small part of this route, standing in the middle of the old ghetto opens up the reality of the horrors of the war.

All in all, my trip to Warsaw and to the ECSAS conference was a fruitful one. I gained valuable skills through speaking at an international conference, boosting my confidence in both my work and my presentation skills, something that I hope to build upon at future events. I was also able to speak to multiple academics researching within the field and was able to share information and findings with them. I wish to thank Nicole Thiara for giving me the opportunity to attend and present at this conference, and I look forward to participating at more in the future.

war-memorial-warsaw

 

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)