Notes from Jerusalem Show VIII: Before and After Origins

Fall 2016 | Gallery

Notes from Jerusalem Show VIII: Before and After Origins


For its eighth edition, the Jerusalem Show responds to the theme of Return with the two-part exhibition Before and After Origins. Works from over thirty artists and cultural heritage collections are presented across five venues in the New Gate neighborhood of Jerusalem’s old city, including Jerusalem Show commissioning institution the Al Ma’mal Foundation. The project takes place in the context of the 3rd Qalandiya International titled, This Sea Is Mine—itself a reference to the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and the inalienable Palestinian project of Return.

Before and After Origins considers Return within a global frame of reference; seeking to learn from Palestine a much needed ‘arts of connection’ in an era where security industries hone evermore powerful technologies of bordering and division. The Palestinian project, its people, and sites of Return, find allegiance with other contemporary struggles such as those in South Africa, Burma, Australia, as well as Refugee and Afro-Caribbean diaspora communities in the Netherlands, among others.

Coinciding with the opening of the Jerusalem Show on October 6, this image gallery for ArteEast Quarterly presents to an online audience a selection of the works and artists present within Before and After Origins.

Displaying works and artists across both venues of the Jerusalem Show VIII, the first carousel of thematically grouped images question and unsettle the monolithic category of the “historic event”. Across these works, the fragment, the aftermath, the accumulation, and the ghostly specter are the chief forms of marking and upending the nationalist and monumental orchestration prevalent among settler colonial states.

A curated selection of Bethlehem engraved shells from the collection of George Al Ama draws forward the economic, political and social factors that shape the production of iconic images. With examples from the 18th and 19th centuries, this minor art form reveals its role in major, globally-felt shifts such as the end of the European Crusader Era, the arrival of the Ottoman Empire to the Levant, the arrival of British occupation, as well as the immense significance of the arrival of the pinctada maxima shell from the Pacific and Australia long before the presence of British forces themselves.

Megan Cope’s RE FORMATION (2016) re-creates middens (Aboriginal Australian architectures of shell and bone fragment). In Cope’s re-rendering, oyster shells from the Quandamooka country are laboriously cast in concrete. This material choice references the early settlement incineration of middens in order to extract lime for the mortar of brick buildings. In the Jerusalem Show VIII, this work is realized with local red-clay earth in acknowledgement of the parallel experiences of dispossession among Palestinians and indigenous Australians.

The Tawfiq Canaan Amulets Collection is a cultural heritage collection of enormous significance, yet one that remains in exile. Unable to return to Jerusalem, the enormous holdings of nearly 1,500 amulets, beads, bells, magic-bowls, bones, shells and other objects were placed in hiding in 1948 and are now held in the Birzeit University Museum north of Ramallah. The true value of the collection is largely due to the meticulous annotations of Canaan— a physician, folklorist and renowned late-Ottoman Jerusalemite. In response to the impasse preventing the amulets from entering Jerusalem, Jerusalem Show VIII, together with the Birzeit University Museum, initiated the Canaan Library. The latter brings together an online resource of the writings of Canaan spanning articles in the Journal of Oriental Studies, monographic publications, and political pamphlets from the turmoil of the Manate era.

The same image carousel features work by renowned artist Jawad Al Malhi, who grew up in the Shu’fat refugee camp and began his earliest painting on hessian sacks that held UNRWA supplies. The Shu’fat Refugee Camp points to the epicenter of the Occupation, with its security economy and Apartheid structures. Established in 1967 when a group of families who had fled in 1948 were removed anew from their dwellings in the old city, the camp now stands effectively kettled within the separation wall, guarded at its most elevated point by a military post. This image gallery features excerpts of Al Malhi’s 2013 series, Measures of Uncertainty, which pictures the streets of the Shu’fat Refugee Camp just after a major event, such as an incursion or house demolition by IDF forces.

In his Unfinished Monuments series, Melbourne artist Tom Nicholson traces a parallel trajectory between the settler-states of Israel and Australia. Commissioned by Al Ma’mal director Jack Persekian, the Palestinian chapter of this work now arrives at its third iteration, Unfinished Monument (Shellal), in which Nicholson has arranged for the reconstruction of 13 panels of a 6th century Byzantine mosaic. The mosaic was discovered by Australian soldiers in 1917 who excavated, studied, documented, and then crated and transported it to Australia where its tesserae tiles were embedded into the Australian War Memorial. An accompanying video features Bedouin elder and activist Nuri al-Okbi speaking about the experiences of the local communities of the “unrecognized villages”.

The last work of the first carousel—Shada Safadi’s Keep Breathing (2016)—is willfully elusive and yet offers an indelible image from the far north of the territories under Zionist occupation. Safadi is part of a formidable and dynamic generation of artists, poets, musicians and intellectuals from the Majdal Shams in the occupied Syrian Golan. The work Keep Breathing, etched into plastic and lit to cast a shadow, is inspired by a nearby Palestinian village that is the site of a water spring, and that was destroyed in 1967. The techniques employed in the work revisit Safadi’s earlier series Promises (2012), of which the artists says:

That spirit could have flown without being seen by anyone. But the horror of what happened, and it’s struggling out of fear, made it leave an impact that demands of us, we the ones who are alive, to give promises. We forget the promises we give to our dead, we keep them for some few days and then forget. We did not see things ourselves when they happened… We saw it after it happened, and the scene etched itself in our memory. How can we apologize for that spirit that took us out of darkness? You still exist and we were meant to stay alive but our freedom is still incomplete, you are dead and we are the dead too.”

The second carousel of images is a discrete paring of two works, each an icon of St George, albeit painted in vastly different times and parts of the world. The first is an example of the renowned Jerusalem School of icon painters who practiced in the 19th century. This example—from the collection of George Al Ama—bears many of the Jerusalem School traits that follow the Aleppo tradition, including almond-shaped eyes and the rounded facial features of St George, as well as a biblical fragment in Arabic script.

The second icon of St Geroge is a new one painted in 2016 by Aboriginal artist Ryan Presley. Here, the icon is re-imagined as an allegory of the Northern Territory “Intervention” or forcible take-over of Aboriginal communities by armed forces, and the imposition of neoliberal welfare disciplining. In Presley’s rendition, St George is in fact a young Aboriginal woman while the dragon has become a hydra clutching the sovereign crown and breathing fire from a petrol pump. The hero is framed within a canyon representing to the forces of extractive and security capital. The high-rise towers of banking and mining corporations in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth are depicted on the left, while on the right, a collapsing Twin Towers is depicted alongside the nuclear-capable B2 bombers stationed in the Northern Territory as part of the United States Pivot to the Pacific. This new plotting of St George reveals a crisis in the heroic archetype, which is floundering in received notions of political “good” in the face of transformed categories of geography, power, and property.


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