Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 5th March 2016

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Jerusalem//Home: An artistic statement about the holy city


Reclamation by Manal Deeb

Reclamation by Manal Deeb

London - Whose home is Jerusalem?

A group exhibition by photographers, ceramic and digital artwork artists raised the question about whose “home” is the holy city, which is commonly revered and contested by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The exhibition Jerusalem//Home at London’s P21 Gallery, brought together the works of four Palestinian photographers from Jerusalem, ceramic works by two London-based artists and digital artworks by a Palestinian-American artist based in the United States.

While the photographs captured the beauty of the Dome of the Rock of al-Aqsa mosque and the proud majestic city without reference to the long-protracted Arab-Israeli conflict and the harsh political debate surrounding the identity of the holy city, the digital artworks and ceramics make a political statement alluding to the idea of home and the Judaisation of Jerusalem.

In an introduction to modern Jerusalem the exhibition’s catalogue states that, following the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948, Israelis began converting Palestine, including West Jerusalem, into a Jewish land. East Jerusalem, in addition to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was seized by Israel in June 1967 in what was the six-day war.

The photographs portray the Palestinian territories as a seamless amalgam of cultures and religions “like members of the same family on the same plot of land”. They are taken at dusk and the caption Spirituality Moment on Obayda Jamal’s photograph of the Dome of the Rock could apply to all photographs in the exhibition.

“Taking photos of the beauty of Palestine is my passion; there are a lot of amazing spots in our country that show how stunning it is,” Jamal said.

His views were echoed by Abdullah Hawash: “What inspired me to pursue photography was my passion to show the beauty of Palestine to the whole world… What photography means to me is the ability to freeze a moment of life so others can see it.”

Expropriations of land in and around Jerusalem has been a systematic policy of Israeli governments. Its area has been increased and the city has become surrounded by Jewish settlements that dominate the landscape.

The three digital artworks by Manal Deeb, a Palestinian-American, represent dreams of a reunion with the family and the beloved ones in the homeland. Digital collages are intricately layered with forms and digital textures to suggest originality, homeland and belonging.

“The content and narrative behind each piece construct a visual metaphor of how Palestinians from generation to generation overlaid their lives and circumstances,” Deeb explained.

Ceramics artist Ranjena Gohel explores the meaning of home. By using clay to recreate fragments of homes, she seeks to capture the yearning of people who make their own homes against all odds, fuelled and energised by hopes for a better life.

In Letters, Gohel turns envelopes into clay works of art. The visual references have much to do with loving memories, the romance of the receipt of handwritten words and the joy of sealing intimate thoughts only to be read by one other person.

“Should our personal histories, the proof of our existence and our loving memories reside forever in a cloud server or should it reside, as it did before, in a physical form?” Gohel asks. “The envelopes in this work hold the private thoughts that were once cherished and loved and now have been discarded or blown away.”

A small room in the lower gallery is devoted solely to a cream-coloured football, strategically placed on sand by Italian potter Marcella Mameli. The colours are different shades of brown and cream. An overhead projector sheds different light on the ball on the background sounds of the sea and children’s voices.

A major theme of Mameli’s work is children affected by displacement and fear. The washed-out ball represents the tragedy that occurred when four boys playing football by the beach in Gaza and were shot by Israeli soldiers. Her recurring images of children’s shoes are mirrored into clay, with focus on Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian migrant boy whose body was found washed up on a Turkish beach.

In a statement about her work Mameli said that she “admires the Palestinians’ love for life amid the devastation” and although she may not be able to directly make a change, she “cannot help but not stay silent”.

Exhibition curator Sara Foryame said that “the exploration of home and displacement ultimately allows for discussion of sensitive and intriguing issues for those seeking to come together and explore their own identity and self.

“It also instinctively enquires about the gallery space, itself being a temporary home for the artworks… from where the artwork, again, will soon be displaced.”