The exhibition Displacement is focused on two Palestinian artists, Raeda Saadeh and Larissa Sansour, whose work inevitably relates to the social and political context from which it springs. Years of strained relations between Israel and Palestine which came to a critical point in 2002 with the erection of the defence wall separating Israel from the West Bank, has recently become one of the main crisis areas in the world and has taken the lives of mainly innocent Palestinian civilians. The wall was, and still remains a border: road blocks and checkpoints impede free movement, a curfew is imposed, fewer work permits are issued and consequently there is a steady elimination of Palestinians from Israeli society. The concept of security based on a fear of anti-Semitism, Islam, terrorism, extermination, etc. has become the basic guideline of Israeli politics and society, resulting in a radical militarisation of their society, which is now hostile to Palestinians.
A life under constant occupation has a huge impact on the work of both artists who - each in their own way – examine and reflect on the complex conditions they are confronted with in their everyday public and private lives.
Their work also addresses issues around the preservation of their own political subjectivity and individual forms of resistance, revolt and reaction to the all-encompassing colonisation of both the body and space, and which also affects the value systems which are dictated by a radically militarised and patriarchal society.
Saadeh and Sansour reflect the political through the perspective of a woman; they are both the main protagonists of their works. Their principal means of expression are video, photography and installation, though Saadeh is no stranger to performance whilst Sansour also realises her projects through printed media (books) and on the internet.
They set their bodies in real urban and natural or imaginative and constructed landscapes, positioned in different (but accurately selected) topographic and temporal contexts. They are often engaged in tasks traditionally ascribed to women and in a poetic, absurd or humorous way critically comment on the stereotyped role of a woman in the Middle East as well as the political reality of permanent occupation and the search for a place under the sun.
A common characteristic shared by both artists is the exploration of politically engaged topics and the use of the female body as a tool to explore identity, gender and space, as well as the relationship between space/environment and the subject.
In the video performance Vacuum, Saadeh performs the absurd “Sisyphus task” – she is vacuuming the desert between Jericho and the Dead Sea, the Palestinian territory where the only inhabitants left are rocks and sand. This act not only casts a critical view on gender roles but also becomes a strong and direct symbol of the inability and absurdity of the political conditions in her country. Similar topics are intertwined in the photo series Concrete Walls. Saadeh is confronted with the evident symbol of separation; the eight-metre high, barbed wire topped barrier stretching over 700 kilometres. In the first photograph, she is a strong woman pulling the wall with a thick rope. “She moves the walls” and has a smile on her face, whilst in the second image she embodies a vulnerable angel trapped on the wrong side. When looking at Saadeh’s photographs one cannot ignore the feeling of contradiction created by the tension between the character and the background (landscape). Her characters do not quite fit the harsh reality of the scenes.
Her photo series True Tales Fairy Tales (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Penelope, Mona Lisa) has the same effect. Evidently artificial placement of the fairy tale characters among the ruins or deserted streets of Jaffa during the night-time curfew can be read through a perspective of contradictions and frustrations of the artist’s everyday life which is full of contrasts, in particular when you are a Palestinian woman with an Israeli passport living in Jerusalem in the occupied area. By drawing attention to the artifice of the image, she is more concerned with highlighting disjuncture, discord and displacement and structures her images accordingly.
Whereas Saadeh takes characters from fairy tales, legends and the portraits of Great Masters, in short the heritage of the past, and places them in a contemporary Palestinian reality, Larissa Sansour’s films are rooted in the future. To her, the only possible solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the genre of science fiction and fiction. That is, it lies beyond the reality. In the film with a meaningful title A Space Exodus, she adapts a section of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece; she is the main protagonist, a woman, a Palestinian, planting the Palestinian flag on the Moon. With bitter humour, Sansour criticizes the long unsolved issue of the Palestinian state. In her next short film entitled Nation Estate, she goes a step further. She stays faithful to the sci-fi genre as the only “space” that allows her to explore potential solution to the problem of how to join all Palestinians together in a single space. In the film she returns from her space journey to Earth and houses the entire Palestinian population in a colossal skyscraper in which each city has its own floor. A vertical solution seems perfect because it takes up the least physical space and simultaneously simulates living the high life. The story follows the female lead, played by Sansour herself, in a futuristic folkloric suit returning home from a trip abroad and making her way through the lobby of this monstrous building – sponsored and sanctioned by the international community. Having passed the security checkpoints, she takes the elevator to the Bethlehem floor where she lives. Neither directly horrific nor demonizing of the Israeli occupation it critiques, the work boasts a humour that has the potential to open up different ‘readings’ into the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Sansour’s controversial project was nominated for the 2011 Lacoste-sponsored Elysée Prize by Switzerland’s Musée de l’Elysée, although the nomination was later retracted since Lacoste did not want to be associated with the work’s political overtones. (Mara Vujić)
Larissa Sansour (Palestine/UK)
Nation Estate Film, 2012 / 9'
A Space Exodus Film, 2009 / 5’ 24’’
Raeda Saadeh (Palestine)
Organisation: City of Women; In collaboration with: Škuc Gallery.