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)

Belief and Faith, The Social Place of Worship, Prayer and Meditation, by Bogumila Korba and Robyn Evans

The Spatial Enlightenment of The Senses: Belief and Faith, The Social Place of Worship, Prayer and Meditation

Do people make places or do places make people?

by Bogumila Korba and Robyn Evans

26 November 2015

Starting in July 2015, we undertook a SPUR (Scholarship Project for Undergraduate Research) in partnership with NTU and the head of the Photography degree Max Kandhola, who had proposed the project.

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The project was an exploration of Sikh and Muslim places of worship in Nottingham. Through our academic and visual research, we discovered the relationship between faith and places of worship within Nottingham’s community and surroundings.  Mapping locations, doing fieldwork and historical research into human geography and postcolonial migration, we looked at issues of belonging and adapting, whilst drawing upon ideas of the ‘other’.

Eventually, we went into the different places to gain further information and, of course, to take photographs! Working with the local communities and religious leaders, we intended to photograph the interior and exterior of each building in order to represent the communities who live near, and pray within them. Our main goal was to capture the aura of each site in order for a viewer who has never personally experienced such a place to be able to grasp an idea of it.

An integral part of our project was the fact that we were not interested in photographing people, just the architecture and feeling of each place of worship and its surroundings. We wanted to capture the essence of a building, shaped by a community without directly photographing the community.

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

 

Sri Nabh Kanwal Raja Sahib Ji Gurdwara

Sri Nabh Kanwal Raja Sahib Ji Gurdwara

Nottingham is a multicultural city with population of 310,837 (2011 census). There are approx. 27,000 Muslims and 4,312 Sikhs.  There are 25 official worship sites for Muslim groups and seven Sikh Gurdwaras. The Muslim community of Nottingham predominantly originates from Pakistan and the Sikh population originates mainly from India (2011 census). Both groups came to UK in the 1950s and 60s, part of a countrywide influx of postcolonial migrants.

When these groups migrated, they brought traditions, values, culture, religion and language. After over 50 years, their presence has become embedded into modern society but is still visibly distinct. The languages, traditional forms of dress, foods and architecture have transformed Nottingham into a colourful, some might say ‘exotic’, but most importantly a very interesting European City.

Madni Masjid

Madni Masjid

From the very beginning of our research, an astonishing fact was discovered – the human geography of Nottingham is divided into areas predominated by religious groups. This fact is not always obvious at first sight.

surrounding madni masjid

The question: ‘Do places make people or do people make places?’ was constantly on our minds. Only one building was purposefully built to be a site of worship – the Nurani Jami Masjid Mosque in St. Ann’s, which is also the biggest mosque in Nottingham and a part of it is still under construction. The rest of the religious buildings tended to be converted buildings, a mosque that was previously a pub, many converted shops, warehouses and schools, and both Mosques and Gurdwaras, which were, previously churches.

Sites of worship would be built for the need of the community, some buildings more basic and sparse than others, some virtually empty most days, others a hub for the community – providing resources and services for the surrounding communities, the people shaped and made the place.

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Surrounding area

Surrounding area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaining access to these sites proved problematic on some occasions. Many places immediately declined our request to gain entry. One on particular occasion we came up against an individual who became both defensive and rude at the sight of us – this is something which we realised was inevitable when we started this project but it was still unnerving. Another problem we frequently came up against was being subject to a strong bias throughout conversation, something that made it hard to remain neutral and professional. Language and educational barriers made it near impossible sometimes to ask the questions we desired to have answered.

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Our project coincided with Ramadan, which meant the mosques were bustling with life and busy which was amazing to see but did also mean that we struggled to get access to all of them.  So having access to some of them, despite the inconvenient time, was great and very interesting but also an enlightening experience for us.

Overall, the project produced over 100 images and a contextual research file. We were enlightened by the experience of being welcomed into a community we had never previously encountered. Being presented with multiple opportunities within the community and the art world following the end of project has also been both exciting and rewarding.

 

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

Jamia Masjid Sultania Mosque

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pakistan centre

Pakistan centre

sri guru singh gurdwara

sri guru singh gurdwara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©  Photographs and Text: Bogumila Korba and Robyn Evans, 2015