Refraction: Moving Images on Palestine
Art exhibition at the P21 Gallery
By Kaitlyn Kennedy
“Is there anywhere more beautiful than Palestine?” the woman on the screen asked the interviewer this question as her eyes filled up with tears. I was immediately struck by her emotional connection to this geographical location, I knew nothing about. I watched as her eyes widened and fill with vitality as she described the colour of the oranges and the size of the bananas; the simple things in life we take for granted or overlook until they are gone. Until they are taken. She was asked, “Would you go back to Palestine if Palestine was free?” To which she responded, “Could any Palestinian not go back to Palestine?” I removed myself from the context of the video, the context of her situation, the context of the gallery I was standing in and I asked myself, “What would I do if I was forced to leave my home?” It is a painful thought. It is a painful reality for some Palestinians.
I carried that question with me as I entered the next room. Grey and bleak with two beautiful paintings by Mohamed Al- Hawajri, with Mike Hoolboom’s film Lacan Palestine playing in the background. I was introduced to maps demonstrating foreign control in the Middle East. Clips of British politicians urging for the creation of a strong Jewish state. I absorbed the propaganda of the past: Jews would better benefit the West than the Arabs. As I sat in the red bean bag chair close to the screen I divulged into the historic tensions of the land. Images of battle and war intermixed with scenes of everyday life: love, laughter, children. Children with toy guns, playfully aiming and shooting with perfect technique. Children that are surrounded by violence, despair and destruction.
On the stairway down to the lower gallery, the wall is draped with keenardphillips work, Palestine (2008). Towards the bottom of the stairs the Palestinian flag pops out of the large monochrome canvas. The tri-color flag that is symbolic of the Arab Revolt. A flag that was banned from the Gaza Strip by the state of Israel in 1967 following the Six Day War. In 1980 a law was created that banned the use of the four colors of the flag: red, white, black, and green from artwork. Any Palestinian displaying artwork that contained this combination of colors would subsequently be arrested. But I didn’t know this background information when viewing kennardphillip’s artwork. And yet feelings of pride and resilience were evoked from the image of the flag swaying.
There was an intriguing quote in another video titled Roof by Kamal Alijafari. I have searched the internet endlessly for the exact phrase and have failed to produce it, however it is just as poignant paraphrased. It was the idea that we never really leave home, we continuously drag it with us. I thought back to the woman who first introduced me to Palestine: her homeland, her love - and I thought about the pain in her eyes, the life drained from her face when she talked of being forced to leave. All she has are her memories, her nostalgia for her childhood in a land that was wrongfully taken away.
Through research I later made the connection that she was a refugee from the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. The same year as the Dein Yassin Massacre that took place on April 9th, after the Untied Nations had proposed the division of Palestine into two separate states: Arab and Jewish with Jeruselum belonging to neither. A decision made by an organization foreign to the land. A decision made without the consent or regard for the people who lived there. Approximately 200 men, women, and children died. But this is just one of many violent attacks inflicted on Palestine. The narrative of their explosive relationship with Israel is one that is continuing to be written.
The people of Palestine remain occupied today. The themes of occupancy and oppression are apparent throughout the gallery. Khaled Jarrar’s Concrete performance produced the carved out volleyball present on the gallery floor. Images of him chipping away at the concrete wall dividing his community capture the frustration and helplessness of the situation. How can these barriers be removed? How can these boundaries be peacefully taken down?
The future of Palestine is unknown but its past and present is eloquently displayed in P21’s Gallery. I left not only feeling more informed and educated than when I walked in, but I felt a connection to the land, to the people, and to the struggles they continue to fight and endure.
The P21 Gallery is a London-based non-profit organisation promoting contemporary Middle Eastern and Arab art and culture with distinct focus on Palestine
Artists: Mohammad Al-Hawajri, Kamal Aljafari, Tayseer Barakat, Mike Hoolboom, Khaled Hourani, Khaled Jarrar, Josh Jones, kennardphillipps, Inzajeano Latif, Manal Mahamid, Laila Shawa, Nasser Soumi, Tarzan and Arab
Exhibition dates: 19th December 2012 - 16th March 2013