report by Susannah Tarbush, London
The book Keep Your Eye on the Wall: Palestinian Landscapes, published by Saqi Books in London, brings together the work of seven award-winning artist-photographers and four writers in response to the Wall under construction through the West Bank. It was recently launched in London with a discussion event at the Mosaic Rooms.
The panel at the launch comprised the book’s two editors - Paris-based journalist and editor Olivia Snaije and London-based editor Mitchell Albert - plus two contributors to the book: Palestinian artist Steve Sabella and London-based writer, editor and curator Malu Halasa.
L to R: Olivia Snaije, Malu Halasa, Steve Sabella and Mitchell Albert
Mitchell Albert gave a slide show of images and artists’ statements from the book and Malu Halasa read extracts from her essay in the book, Oppressive Beauty: Against Aestheticising the Wall. Steve Sabella spoke about his work and life as a Palestinian artist, and about his works in the book. There was then a Q and A session with the audience.
The beautifully-bound 192-page book is itself a work of art. Its concertina format somehow resonates with its theme of the Wall. It is accompanied by an exhibition of work from the book, shown so far in Arles and Paris.
The Ramallah-based Palestinian lawyer, human rights activist and award-winning author Raja Shehadeh writes in his foreword to Keep Your Eye on the Wall: "When I opened the dossier prepared by the editors of this book in advance of publication, I found the photographs shockingly beautiful and evocative - by far the best I have seen of the Separation Barrier.”
slide show at the launch of Keep Your Eye on the Wall
The wall is referred to variously as the "security fence" by Israel, the "Apartheid Wall" by Palestinians, and the "Separation Barrier" or "Separation Wall" by almost everyone else. It is "one of the world's most emotionally charged and controversial constructions of the past ten years," says the book’s introduction. Construction started in 2002. When completed the Wall is expected to extend for 709 kilometres through the West Bank. This is more than twice the length of the Green Line, Israel's recognised border with the West Bank. A map shows the intricate twists and turns of the Wall's course.
“A series of concrete slabs, barbed-wire ‘buffer zones’, trenches, electrified fences, watchtowers, thermal-imaging video cameras, sniper towers, military checkpoints and roads for patrol vehicles have dismembered the cities of the West Bank and segregated them from occupied East Jerusalem,” says the introduction.“Symbolically, the wall in Palestine is this century’s Berlin Wall, albeit four times as long as that hated Cold War icon and more than twice as high.”
Olivia Snaije (L) and Malu Halasa
The Wall has attracted the interest of various Palestinian and foreign artists, such as Banksy, who have done art works and graffiti on its surface. These works are highlighted in for example the book Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine.
Keep Your Eye on the Wall has a different approach. It is not so much a book of art done on the wall itself as an expression of the artistic response of Palestinians and some others to the Wall. Six of its seven artist-photographers are Palestinian. Besides Steve Sabella they are Noel Jabbour, Raed Bawayah, Taysir Batniji, Raeda Saadeh and Rula Halawani. The seventh photographer is the German Kai Wiedenhöfer for whom photographing separation walls has been a major preoccupation since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Among the four writers featured in the book is the acclaimed Palestinian author Adania Shibli. Her contribution takes the form of a powerful disquieting short story, The Fence. Born in Palestine in 1974, Shibli lives between Ramallah and Berlin. Two times winner of the Qattan Young Writers' Ware - Palestine, Shibli is the author of two published novels and many short stories as well as narrative and art essays.
Raja Shehadeh was an ideal choice as writer of the foreword. He has an intimate relationship with the landscape of the West Bank. His books include Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape(2007) - winner of the Orwell Prize - and Occupation Diaries (2012).
In mid-November Shehadeh and Penny Johnson won the 2013 General Prize at the MEMO Palestine Book Awards as editors of Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home.
Shehadeh writes in his foreword that each of the photographs in Keep Your Eye on the Wall is "a personal statement by the artist of what the land means to him or her, and the impact and implication of the presence on it of the wall Israel is building."
Shehadeh writes movingly of what the wall means for him, and asks: "How could it have been, that a developed country like Israel could build such a monstrosity." He sees the wall as being built not for security reasons but more likely as a "play for grabbing more Palestinian land, and for the economic benefits that accrue to those contractors and producers of concrete, surveillance equipment, reams of barbed wire, etc involved in its construction. It has been, by far, the largest economic project Israel has ever undertaken."
There are various ways of resisting Israeli efforts to claim and land, whether through settlements or the wall. The aritst in Keep Your Eye on the Wall are doing it through their art, "expressing their feelings with great skill and beauty and echoing the feelings of much larger segments of the Palestinian population that have to survive and make do with life in a divided, disfigured land," writes Shehadeh.
The exhibition of Keep Your Eye on the Wall is curated by Masasam Curatorial Projects, with curators Monica Santos and Sandra Maunac. It has works by Taysir Batniji, Rula Halawani, Raeda Saadeh, Steve Sabella and Kai Wiedenhöfer. The exhibition was shown in Arles from 1 July to 22 September and in Paris from 12 September to 2 October.
It is due to be shown at the Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai in Art Dubai 2014 and at the Contemporary Art Platform in Kuwait. Interest has been expressed by Goethe-Institut in Ramallah, and it is hoped the exhibition will be mounted in the USA at some point.
Rula Halawani will be exhibiting some of her photographs from the book at a collective show in Italy in 2014, and Sabella is also expected to have some pieces from Disturbia and Metamorphosis in a London show.
THE ARTIST PHOTOGRAPHERS
The New Motif, 2012
© Noel Jabbour
We Are Not Enemies But Friends, 2012
© Noel Jabbour
Noel Jabbour was born in Nazareth in 1970 and studied photography and art in Jerusalem. She has exhibited in Europe, the Middle East and US and her work is in collections worldwide.
Her sequence of nine works in Keep Your Eye on the Wall is entitled Illusion.
Jabbour says in her artist's statement "you believe there is hope", given the reduction in the number of checkpoints and fewer soldiers on the roads between the big cities compared with previous stays in the West Bank. But "then you’re confronted with a bigger, higher barrier: the massive infrastructure of sophisticated control. You end up at the Wall. There is no escape from the ideological master plan behind it."
from Toward the Sky series, 2012
© Raed Bawayah
from Toward the Sky series, 2012
© Raed Bawayah
© Raed Bawayah
Raed Bawayah was born in Qatana, Palestine, in 1971. He studied at the Naggar School of Photography in Musrara, Jerusalem. His work is in several collections. He lives and works in France and Palestine. In his compelling black-and-white portraits in his series Toward the Sky, Palestinian workers "climb toward the sky, landing on the Israeli side of the Wall." The Wall divides their village of Yamoun, next to Jenin, from Palestinian villages in the Galilee region of Israel. Thousands of Palestinians have moved to these villages to work. In his artist's statement Bawayah describes their grim lifestyle.
Gaza Strip Border, Kibbutz Netiv Ha'Asara, Israel
© Kai Wiedenhöfer
Kai Wiedenhöfer was born in Germany in 1966 and studied photography and editorial design in Germany and Arabic in Damascus. He has won numerous awards. In 1988 he photographed the fall of the Berlin Wall, and believed it represented the end of walls as political instruments. "Yet, on the contrary, walls have had a big renaissance. Barriers have gone up in the US, Europe and the Middle East in the aftermath of political, economic, religious, and ethnic conflicts." When construction began on the Separation Barrier in occupied Palestine he grew concerned and he documented the process in 2003-2010 and published a book, Wall. His book Confrontier (2013) is about separation walls worldwide.
Taysir Batniji was born in Gaza in 1966 and studied fine arts in Palestine in France. His work has been exhibited in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, the US and Brazil and is in several collections. In 2012 he was awarded the Abraaj Capital Art Prize. He lives and works in Palestine.
His series is Untitled (Gaza Walls) and he made it in 2001 during the first months of the second intifada. "As the days went by, the doors and walls of the city - which had already become bulletin boards since the First Intifada - now became veritable canvases for portraits of "martyrs", along with posters, slogans, and graffiti. The succession of faces on death notices were soon erased, worn away by time, covered over, or torn off deliberately. "This series reflects on a double disappearance: of those who gained "recognition" through their images on posters, and of the disappearance of the posters themselves.
One Day, 2013
from Concrete Walls
Raeda Saadeh was born in Umm al-Fahm in 1977 and studied fine arts in Jerusalem and New York. She has participated in shows in Europe, the Middle East and the US and her work is in various permanent collections. She lives and works in Jerusalem.
"The woman who recurs in my work lives in a state of occupation that begins with the political and ends with the psychosomatic," says Saadeh. "She is saner than she should be, both fragile and strong, fully awake and responsive, constantly on the move."
© Steve Sabella
Disturbia© Steve Sabella
Steve Sabella was born in Jerusalem in 1975 and studied photography and visual arts in Jerusalem, the US and the UK. He has exhibited internationally and his work is in collections including the British Museum and Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. A monograph of his work is being prepared in collaboration with the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, where he lives.
In his artist's statement in his Disturbia and Metamorphosis photographs in Keep Your Eye on the Wall, Sabella explains that his work in 2008-11 "focused on liberation from mental exile and the splintering of identity, and grew into Disturbia, an investigation of the physical body and the hidden 'scars of occupation'."
In Metamorphosis, Sabella highlights materials that connote restriction of movement: "Barbed wire, for instance, which unexpectedly evokes the stitching of a wound." On close inspection of what appears to be the Separation Barrier, "the viewer may notice concrete fragments that are beginning to dissolve. Metamorphosis emphasises precisely this opposition and transformation: a conflict between form and function, vision and perception, stagnation and transcendence."
from Gates to Heaven, Jerusalem, 2012©Rula Halawani
Born in Jerusalem in 1964, Rula Halawani studied photography in Canada and the UK. Her work has been exhibited in the Middle East, Europe and the US and is in several collections and the private Nadour Collection. Halawani has received numerous awards, and founded the Photography Programme at Birzeit University, Palestine, where she teaches.
For Halawani the eight ancient main gates of Jerusalem's Old City were a familiar and beloved sight. But in 2002 Israel erected its Separation Barrier "and installed other kinds of gates, divorcing Palestinians from their families, homes and from Islamic and Christian holy sites." In making her Gates to Heaven She photographed these gates on the Israeli side of the Wall around Jerusalem and never saw them open.