Tuesday, May 11, 2010
international gallerie issue (no 25) on palestinian culture
Indian arts journal focuses on Palestinian culture
by Susannah Tarbush, Saudi Gazette May 9 2010
In recent years a growing number of Palestinian artists have come to international attention, including filmmaker and actor Elia Suleiman, visual artist Mona Hatoum and the late poet Mahmoud Darwish. In January the play “I am Yusuf and This is my Brother” was brought to London’s Young Vic Theater by the Palestinian theater company ShiberHur – meaning “an inch of freedom” – and received rave reviews.
The most recent issue of the Mumbai-based publication International Gallerie brings together these and other Palestinian accomplishments in the arts and presents a compelling picture of intense creativity energized by a traumatic history and a defiant response.
The handsome 124-page issue is a valuable record of the work of Palestinian artists in the visual arts, music, reportage, photography, theater and poetry. And tucked away in its pages is a specially compiled CD, “Checkpoint Palestine: Rhythms of Palestine”, featuring artists such as Sabreen, Reem Kelani , Marwan Abado, Suhail Khoury, Khaled Joubran, Ahmad Al-Khatib, Al Bara’em and Ramallah Underground.
International Gallerie was founded in 1997 by the prominent cultural entrepreneur, writer and poet Bina Sarkar Ellias as a journal dedicated to the journey of arts and ideas. Published twice a year, it has won prizes and has established an international reputation, with subscribers including top galleries, museums and universities worldwide.
Ellias is editor, designer and publisher of the journal. In preparation for the Palestine issue she traveled to the West Bank and Jerusalem seeking an answer to the question: “What is the significance of going through a checkpoint in Palestine?” In a hard-hitting editorial she writes: “Artists, writers, thinkers, poets, musicians, dangers, theatre people, photographers and filmmakers, from the homeland and the diaspora, are activists in the truest sense. Their work, a form of resistance, emerges from wounds of loss and displacement.”
There could be no better authority on the Palestinian visual arts, past and present, than the 67-year-old Jerusalem-born artist and writer Kamal Boullata [pictured] who now lives in southern France. His work is held by leading public collections in the Middle East, Europe and the US and he is author of the groundbreaking work “Palestinian Art: From 1850 to the Present” (Saqi, 2009).
In his substantial essay, “From the Crucible of Struggle: Innovation in Art”, he asks: “In the chaotic world of the uprooted, where there is not even such a thing as a written art history or anything close to a tradition of art criticism, how can the issue of innovation in art be investigated?”
His survey begins before the Palestinian ‘nakba’ (catastrophe) of 1948 when the establishment of Israel led to the uprooting of some 800,000 Palestinians. The ‘nakba’ made the pre-1948 pictorial traditions mostly inaccessible. Since 1948, the “cosmopolitan cultural centre” that Jerusalem represented has been demolished and the dispossessed generations of Palestinian artists have grown up in distant regions.
In the first two decades after the nakba Palestinian innovations in visual expression fell within two broad currents. One current was the emergence of artists from the rural population of refugee camps emerged, practicing a populist form of art. The other current was of artists from urban centers, mostly trained in European institutions at home or abroad. Beirut became an important magnet for such artists.
The 1967 war and occupation ushered in a new phase of artistic development. The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and expulsion of the PLO from Beirut, and eruption of the first intifada in 1987, also led to changes on the art scene.
In a profile of leading Palestinian artist 63-year-old Sliman Mansour, Gannit Ankori of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem describes how Mansour’s art “delves into the traumatic experiences of exile and military occupation” which have dominated Palestinian life in the post-nakba period. But Mansour also expresses “the profound beauty of the homeland, the power of native traditions such as olive picking, embroidery and pottery, and the strength and resilience of the people and their desire for liberation and justice.” [pictured: Mansour's iconic image "Camel of Burdens"].
Sharif Waked turns the table on the Israeli humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints through his video “Chic Point Palestine” juxtaposing a catwalk show of young men modeling “checkpoint chic” with documentary stills showing the reality of checkpoints. The clothes are designed to “preempt those daily imperatives of Israeli soldiers, who order Palestinians to lift their clothes and expose their flesh.”
Gallerie has a double spread of fold out pages of seven images by Palestinian photographer Steve Sabella. Six of the images each show a different young Israeli man dressed only in boxer shorts standing in front of the separation wall. Facing them is a picture of the photographer similarly dressed. Sabella explains: “Getting rid of clothes signals the need to go back to the essence in a hope to reconsider a different way of ‘seeing’, and to be rid of what is currently shaping us.”
The name of the radical cartoonist Naji Al-Ali is particularly associated with the figure of Hanthala – a refugee boy with his back to the viewer – who appears in many of his cartoons. “Hanthala represents Al-Ali himself, as well as all Palestinians,” writes Hani W. El Haddad in his essay on the cartoonist for Gallerie. Al-Ali was assassinated in London in 1987 by an unknown killer.
Dance, and especially dabke, is a vital ingredient in Palestinian popular culture. El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe, founded in 1979, fuses traditional dabke with contemporary dance styles. The troupe’s director Khaled Katamesh (46), who lives and works Al Bireh in the West Bank, writes on dabke in his article “Dance for Freedom”, illustrated by Nida Haj Ali-Qatamesh’s gorgeous photographs of dancers in vivid costumes.
The CD provided by the journal is complemented by an article on music by composer and musician Suhail Khoury, who lives and works in Jerusalem and is director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music and a member of the Oriental Music Ensemble. In his overview of music, he observes that it was in the late 20th century that a unique Palestinian musical identity became evident. The Edward Said conservatory and the Palestine Youth Orchestra were subsequently created.
In the realm of the written word, Gallerie has poetry from the late Mahmoud Darwish, in translation from Arabic, and from Nathalie Handal who lives and works in New York, and Jerusalem-born Najwan Darwish.
The journal includes Palestinian reportage on Israel’s Gaza war. There are striking and harrowing photographs from Eman Mohammed. She is probably the only local female photo journalist in Gaza, which she describes as being “a curse and a gift” [picture shows her image of a girl praying in a Gaza mosque]. In “Sorry! We Are From Gaza” text by Fares Akram is married to photos from Hareef Sarhan. In his essay “Encounters with a Renaissance Man”, Art historian Professor Partha Mitter writes on the “pleasant yet distant” friendship he enjoyed with the late Palestinian professor Edward Said whom he first met at Columbia University in 1980. They last met in Calcutta in 1997 when Said was invited to deliver the Nataji Oration. In an aside Said confessed to Mitter with some sadness that he envied him. “I had a home to return to but he had none. For me, this seems to sum up Edward Said’s anger and pain at his complex transcultural background and his feeling as a perpetual exile lacking a homeland that he could call his own.”