“Archives, Lived and Shared“ is the title of this year’s Qalandiya International, on from October 22 to November 15. It is an invitation to the featured artists and visitors to engage with the Palestinian people’s past, present and future through art. Why care about archives? “Archives are the means by which society categorizes and memorizes itself“, states Ann Butler, scholar at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, at one of the Biennale’s multiple discussion panels. Palestine meanwhile is subjected to Israel’s “cultural cannibalism“, mentions sociologist Salim Tamari at another. The discussions held at the Al-Bireh Cultural Center offer many reasons why Palestinians’ self-memorization hits an important point of society.
In the YAYA exhibition “Suspended Accounts“, organized by the A.M. Quattan Foundation, nine young Palestinian artists engage with this issue and go beyond in their critical way.
“Is it possible to write a city’s history based on vague history?“, asks Hanadi Azmi in her work “Drafting History“. Reassembling pieces of pottery in her own way, she recurs on the traces of the many different civilizations that passed through Jerusalem and confronts the references used to write history according to a hegemonic narrative. Through the odd looking jugs, puzzled and stuck together by the artist, Azmi creates her own biased history. In this way she questions the process of writing history, as it is subjected to particular interests and power relations. The use of pottery also draws special attention to the role of archeology in creating history. In the Israeli Palestinian context this invites visitors to have a more critical perspective on history production at archeological sites, for example at the so called “City of David“ in the the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
Bashar Khalaf in his project “Shadow of the Shadow“ takes a different approach, deriving inspiration from the famous Palestinian artist Suleiman Mansour. Khalaf’s paintings focus on details of a series of Mansour’s works and transfer them into a different time. Influenced by a painting of women carrying oranges framed by trees, he creates a painting of 30 oranges neatly arranged in squares. The notion of artificiality and industrial design is submitted to an even stronger critique as two of them carry the label “Jaffa“ in Arabic. Another painting is a close copy of a city panorama by Mansour – but only half. The rest is now covered by a wall with a surveillance camera.
In this manner Khalaf shows the changes and conflict around Palestinian identity. At the same time he reaffirms Palestinian history by giving continuity to the symbols and artistic expression of Suleiman Mansour. For his work, Bashar Khalaf was awarded the first prize of the Young Artist of the Year Award.
But not only the three mentioned artists’ projects center around the question of canonical history and marginalization of other perspectives. All nine of the artists explore the space outside hegemonic frames and narratives. “What is present in archives and what is absent?“, asks Ann Butler and emphasizes that both – the present and the absent – are equally important.
The YAYA exhibition “Suspended Accounts“ connects to Butler’s observation. The curator Viviana Checchia was inspired by the 2006 exhibition “Interrupted Histories“ in Lubljana, Slovenia and follows the same questions: “What are the implications of the absence of systematicised historization in spaces outside the Western world or on its margins? What sort of methods are needed to accelerate the processes of such historization?“
In that way the concept, works and questions of “Suspended Accounts“ lastly touch the very issue of coloniality and decolonization itself. Bringing to light what lies on the margins or even outside the canonical narratives of history, the works of art deal with the Gramscian notion of subalternity. Seeing the de-subalternization as essential to decolonization, as postcolonial scholar Nikita Dhawan mentions, the art by the nine YAYA finalists is highly subversive to Israel’s ongoing colonial occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The young artist Majd Abdel Hamid, who is featured in his own exhibition at Gallery One in Ramallah, seems to foresee this potential of Palestinian art. In a corner of the exhibition visitors find hourglasses in different shapes, which all share one common feature: the sand inside them is dust from the Israeli Separation Wall. The dust of separation is thus shown in a determined timeframe. The new generation of Palestinian artists, meanwhile, has plenty of time left and their art is a contribution to make the hourglass run out faster.