Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 19th February 2016

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Suspended Accounts tells forgotten Palestinian history


A painting from the Shadow of Shadow series by Bashar Khalaf

A painting from the Shadow of Shadow series by Bashar Khalaf

London - Using archives and self-narrative to tell unwritten history is at the heart of insightful creations displayed in the Suspended Accounts exhibition by Palestinian artists and finalists in the A M Qattan Foundation’s Young Artists of the Year Award at the Mosaic Rooms in West London.

The nine finalists for the biennial award, which is open to artists under 30 of Palestinian descent from any part of the world, were asked to manage their history through arts, curator Viviana Checchia said.

“It is a way for artists to assume responsibility and personally take control of the narrative in their own context. In the exhibition there are accounts which are not part of the main Palestinian narrative.

“It is basically informing us about chapters in the history of Palestine that we are not aware of such as the case of the Palestinian children sent to a boarding school in Russia. The exhibition relates to history: using the archives and making it alive and relevant.”

The finalists were shortlisted from among 50 artists who sent proposals in response to the curatorial statement about the use of the archive in “self-historisation”, Checchia said.

“They were given a budget of $1,000 each to create their own project for the award. From April to September they met on line and discussed their work and there was input from scholars and art critics from all over the world.”

The outcome was an array of paintings, installations and documentary-style films.

The winner, Bashar Khalaf, presented a series of paintings A Shadow of the Shadow in which he said he sought to bring the vision of established Palestinian artist Suleiman Mansour into the present. Each painting in Khalaf’s series sits in dialogue with a specific painting by Mansour alongside it.

“He is giving the audience the opportunity to see the talented painters creating beautiful paintings in Palestine. This is a reference for the new generation,” Checchia said.

Finalist Hamody Ghannam has spent his life in Wadi Nisnas, a small segment of what was left of Haifa’s old city following the nakba, referring to the Palestinian forced exodus upon Israel’s establishment in 1948.

He recorded interviews with residents from the neighbourhood as they tried to preserve their identity and the Arabic language. His installation is an archive room that contains boxes with the names of Palestinian families in Hebrew. Visitors walk through the room and hear the interviews about those memories.

Noor Abed’s film Penelope was inspired by the Greek epic The Odyssey. It explores ideas of futility, homeland and time. Abed’s heroine is a sewing fish. There is a sense of belonging and displacement.

In The Odyssey, Penelope pretends to be weaving a burial shroud for her husband and says she will choose a suitor when she finishes. The Greek hero Odysseus struggles for ten years after the end of the Trojan War in the sea battling mystical creatures before he returns home.

Farah Saleh’s interactive video dance installation A Fidayee Son in Moscow portrays a day in the Interdom, a school built in 1933 in Ivanovo, north-east of Moscow to host the children of revolutionary parents from all over the world as a form of solidarity between nations.

Saleh’s brother went to the school with the children of China’s Mao Zedong and Yugoslavia’s Josip Tito. After the 1982 Israeli war on Lebanon, the Palestinian leadership was scattered across the Arab world and some members decided to send their sons to the international boarding school in the Soviet Union.

The video focuses on the gestures and movements the students used to do in their history, singing, physics and creative writing classes and asks the public to try these gestures themselves in an attempt to make them live the Interdom experience. It encourages viewers to reflect on the pasts of the children, left from a certain generation, and questions the future of the current ones.

Being “scattered globally” or born and raised away from the land of their parents, many of the artists sought to connect with their Palestinian identity by imagining, reflecting on, or appropriating others’ experiences, the exhibition’s synopsis states.

“Exploring the memories of others, examining archives, imagining and constructing undocumented artefacts, questioning recorded histories and interrogating ideas of identity, the exhibition presents an insight into the practices of today’s emerging Palestinian artists,” the synopsis said.

A M Qattan Foundation Director of the Culture and Arts Programme Mahmoud Abu Hashhash said the project provides an opportunity to link the current problems of Palestinians with international issues. “The artists want the audience to gain an understanding of forgotten history through their films and installations,” Abu Hashhash said.