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.

 

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.

Faulkner1

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.

Faulkner2

 

 

 

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)