East Jerusalem: The Other Shadow of the City
Marie MMina - 31/10/2009
Five different venues in East Jerusalem present fifteen Palestinian and twelve foreign contemporary artists for the exhibition entitled “The Other Shadow of the City”. The majority of the artworks conceived for the occasion show how the Israeli occupation moulds the landscape while some others imagine alternative geographies.
Thus, Yazan Khalili launches an “Invitation to a fictive exhibition”. Thanks to the posters which hang everywhere in the streets of East Jerusalem (the Arab part annexed by Israel), he invites the spectators to a photography exhibition entitled “The landscape of light and dark” supposed to take place at the “social centre of the post office (ex-police station)” in Salah Eddine Street. Actually, this place does not exist. In this arterial commercial road, the building next to the post office has been taken over by the Israeli police still occupying the place. The uniform outbreak had considerably modified the habits of merchants and passers-by in Salah Eddine Street. Through this artwork, Yazan Khalili imagines the life of this area if this building had not become a police station but a cultural centre instead.
Rafat Asad also creates a parallel environment through his video installation entitled “Voyage”. Visitors cannot help but smile as soon as they discover the airport’s screen indicating “Jerusalem” among possible destinations (actually, in reality, one has to land in Tel Aviv or in Amman). Then their smile begins to fade when they realise that the two concerned flights are not in their check-in phase but “delayed” or “pending”. The installation is all the more so moving as the artist himself, coming from Nablus, has only managed to visit Jerusalem once when he was a child.
Many other Works evoke the way in which the majority of Palestinians are kept away from this city that they claim as the capital city of their future State.
The Franco-Moroccan Bouchra Khalili has asked a twenty-year-old inhabitant of Ramallah to show her on a map, the itinerary he uses to illegally go to East-Jerusalem where his girlfriend lives. While the two cities are only about fifteen kilometres apart, the young man draws on a map, the never-ending winding trails that he used to take to avoid checkpoints and go through the Separation Wall – something that he cannot do anymore since Israel has blocked up the whole that he used to use as a passage. Bouchra Khalili has baptised this process as a “Mapping Journey”. She had already used it to retrace the journey of illegal immigrants from their country of origin to Marseilles. She has once again resorted to use this map adapted to the Palestinian situation. “It’s abstract but at the same time it is absolutely concrete in the way it shows how the mobility of thousands of people is hindered”, she explains.
In order to give an idea of the length of the Separation War, the British Anna Boggon has transposed it “as the crow flies” on a map of the United Kingdom. A red line stretches out from London to the Scottish Highlands, representing a distance of 709km, that is, the length of the Wall according to the last data of the OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – UN).
Palestinian artists have obviously also been inspired by the wall of concrete. Sliman Mansour has painted “Uncertain landscapes” from aerial photographs of Jerusalem. He has drawn out a few almost abstract compositions where the districts of Abu Dis and Al Ram are nearly isolated, surrounded by the Wall. As for Jawad Al Malhi, he puts on display the phenomenon of segregation bordering Jerusalem. His giant six metres long photo entitled “The Revisited Tower of Babel” shows the Pisgat Zeev colony overhanging the refugee camp of Shuafat. Separated by a valley and a wall, the two communities live each with a constant view on each other but with no communication.
Rula Hlawani commemorates Palestinian villages that have been depopulated when the State of Israel was created in 1948. In “Presence and Impression”, she confronts archive images with black and white photographs that she has taken in 2009: the places are rigorously the same but the traces of Palestinian localities have been erased by urbanisation or forestation. The majority of houses have simply and purely disappeared.
Alexandra Handal, another Palestinian explores the ruins of the Palestinian past in West Jerusalem, these beautiful Arab residences expropriated in 1948. Some of them have been transformed into guesthouses where Israeli owners invite tourists to come and taste their authenticity. The artist stayed in one of them for two weeks during summer in 2007. She captured the atmosphere of the place in her video entitled “Bed and Breakfast Notebooks”. The result oscillates between a diary and the analysis of a crime scene. Alexandra Handal has later criss-crossed the streets of West Jerusalem taking photos of the city through all forms of separation – barriers, hedges, doors, and gates – for her series “Parking prohibited, unless authorised”.
In West Jerusalem the British Sarah Beddington has also filmed the building site of the future « Museum of Tolerance » from dawn to sunset. Financed by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and designed by the architect Frank Gehry, the building is to be raised on the former Muslim cemetery of Mamilla, where funerals have taken place until the 1920’s. A trial has permitted the suspension of the works for a few years but the construction has started again by the end of 2008. The skeletons have been displaced. While recording her “Elegy to Mamilla”, Sarah Beddington confides wanting to do “an act of memory in a place that represents so many proofs of deletion”.
In East-Jerusalem, it’s the living and not the dead who are dislocated. The expulsion of Palestinian families has inspired many artists.
In Silwan, the major part of the population lives in fear of eviction. Certain archaeologists affirm that it is in this area, adjacent to the Old City that King David had founded his kingdom. A colonist organisation would like to get rid of Palestinian inhabitants in order to expand the touristic site named “City of David” and to construct lodgings for Jewish families. The artist Raouf Haj Yihya has created a video taking place in Silwan. In “Metres squared”, five Palestinian households have received an order of expulsion and the player has 15 seconds to save them, whatever he does, the mouse is never fast enough.
The area of Cheikh Jarrah that runs along the “green line” also kindles the colonists’ appetite. In fact, a massive Jewish presence in this place would ensure continuity between West-Jerusalem and the colonies of East Jerusalem and even those of Cisjordan especially the big settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Thus, it would prevent any retrocession of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians who would like to establish their capital there.
Three Palestinian families have recently been expulsed from the houses where they had lived since the 1950’s, that is, before Israel has conquered this part of the city. The Al-Kurd have been delocalised in Autumn 2008, the Hanoun and the Ghawi the following summer. Jewish colonists have immediately occupied the area while the Palestinian families have decided to camp in front of their house, as a sign of protest but also as a result of rehousing.
Rana Bishara has dedicated her installation entitled “Homeless pillows” to these three families of Cheikh Jarrah. Her pillows represent the warmth and the comfort of a household but they are also endowed with a lying down, soft neck which makes them vulnerable. The artist intends to denounce “the ethnic cleansing happening right in front of our eyes” through this artwork.
The exhibition “The Other Shadow of the City” is in line with this landscape that has been so marked by the occupation. Through the window of one of the exhibition’s venue, Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Cheikh Jarrah, one can perceive the houses from where these Palestinian families have been expulsed to the benefit of the colonists. The other sites where the artworks are presented are the Jerusalem Hotel (Nablus Street), the French Cultural Centre (Salah Eddine Street), the Al-Hakawati Palestinian National Theatre (Abu Obaida Street) and the Al-Hoash Gallery – Palestinian Art Court (Zahra Street) which is organising this event.
The Other Shadow of the City
until the 31st of October 2009 in 5 different venues in East Jerusalem
Translated by Elizabeth Grech