Preoccupations premiered at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco, CA and traveled to Holding House in Detroit, MI.
Preoccupations is a group exhibition of landscape art by Palestinians. However, these landscapes do not comprise a collection of straightforward facts, nor do they seek to erase histories (though some present historical rewrites). Rather, the artworks reflect a variety of relationships with the land, whether exilic, diasporic, occupied or under siege. This preoccupation with the land can be traced in poetry, literature, cinema and art to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 on the historic land of Palestine. That year marked an important moment in a series of conflicts, beginning with the Balfour Declaration in 1917, that would lead to the dispossession of indigenous Palestinians and their right to self-determination. A look at how the land of Palestine has been conjured in creative production since then offers a valuable way to gauge each historical period.
The poet Mourid Barghouti wrote “All conflicts prefer symbols.” In a conflict as protracted as that of Palestine, symbols are bound to change. Most of the works in Preoccupations were produced in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, an agreement meant to lead to the eventual establishment of a Palestinian nation state beside Israel. This failed agreement, along with the erection of a massive concrete wall around the West Bank, settlement building and blockade of Gaza, has proven disastrous to the everyday Palestinian.
Some of art works in Preoccupations include recognizable symbols of the Palestinian experience, such as the redolent key, which insists on the refugees’ right of return, or the keffiyeh, which, since the great peasant uprising against the British colonial mandate in 1936-1939, has represented popular rebellion, or tatreez, unique embroidery patterns that reflect a long history of Palestinian visual culture. Alongside these familiar tropes emerges a repertoire of images that reflect new attitudes toward ongoing challenges. Shot at night, Yazan Khalili’s photographic landscape series uses darkness to imagine a different reality that denies militarized checkpoints, watchtowers and the looming concrete wall prominence in the landscape. Mary Tuma’s intimate work is comprised of bits of US maps stitched together with red thread, referencing territorial fragmentation, both in Palestine and the diaspora. Suhad Khatib paints evocative renderings that merge the artist’s personal concerns with the political landscape to produce a completely new world. Najib Joe Hakim’s 1979 photos from Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem recall an irretrievable moment in history before the erection of the settlements that now crowd the edge of the hill and West Bank of the Jordan River. Whether self-taught or formally trained, established or emerging, living in Palestine or born in the diaspora, the artists in this exhibition are rightly preoccupied with land and history, suggesting an abiding need to transform its representation.
Detroit, MI: Ryah Aqel, Zeina Barakeh, C. Gazaleh, Najib Joe Hakim, Manar Harb, Yazan Khalili, Suhad Khatib, and Mary Tuma
San Francisco, CA: Zeina Barakeh, C. Gazaleh, Najib Joe Hakim, Manar Harb, Yazan Khalili, Suhad Khatib, and
Preoccupations: Palestinian Landscapes originated under the auspices of INSTITUTE OF advanced UNCERTAINTY
Minnesota Street Projects, San Francisco, CA, July 27 - August 24, 2019
Holding House, Detroit, MI, January 11 - February 8, 2020