An Index of Tensional and Unintentional Love of Land

The impact of the Palestinian struggle on ideals, efforts, discourses across times and geographies, traced in artworks and documents of visual culture. 16 July - 28 Sept. 2014, New Museum, New York.
By Ala Younis | Sep 2014

Godard came to Jordan in 1970 to shoot a film commissioned by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and supported by the Arab League. "Godard who, during the first meeting at the Continental Hotel, arrived walking on his hands to the amazement of the young Palestinian militants." [1] This image is part of the show, even if the story did not happen, or the image does not exist.

The five images on which Godard structured his "Here and Elsewhere" [2] are the channels of this show. The notions of people's will, political work, prolonged war, and until victory, all cut across by armed struggle, are pushed beyond their assigned meanings; "the people’s army does not consist of sophisticated radars. They are 10.000 children with binoculars and walkie-talkies." [3]

One way to narrate the recent history of the Arab world is to trace the impact of the Palestinian struggle on the ideals, efforts, and discourses that reverberated across different times and geographies. An Index of Tensional and Unintentional Love of Land is an exhibition project that attempts such a survey, juxtaposing images, artworks, photographs and documents of visual culture that undermine stereotypical representations of conflict.

In images found in the Arab Image Foundation and Magnum Photos archives, it is interesting to read beyond the stated demands and aspirations of demonstrations; what of people’s will could be read through the props they carried in their demonstrations, or the words they wrote on their shirts, or the sentences they formed with their bodies on the ground? For example, Egyptian children formed the word evacuation in Arabic during the parade celebrating the anniversary of evacuating foreign troops from Egypt. A phenomenal crowd carried a Nasserist Lebanese militant in a boat around the streets of Saida, while a huge flag of Palestine overshadowed another happy crowd in Damascus engulfing Nasser and Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli during the celebrations announcing the United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958. In one of two vintage postcards [4], a huge mass of trees seems to have swallowed a crowd in Tunis’ Habib Bourguiba Avenue.

The 1970s stamps issued by UAR, PFLP [5] and Fatah not only show the landscape and the bushes from which the Fedayeen emerged with their rifles, but also illustrate some of their movements across maps, states, and politics, even if they stood victorious before incomplete missions. "It is an account that demonstrates the painful road traveled by those who marched without halt in the middle of those shadows, towards a confiscated goal." [6] The concepts and mediums of political work are presented through extracting icons, such as the rifle or the flag, and tracing their appearance (i.e. meaning or utilization) in the remaining visual documents from the time. In 1956, the cover of Time magazine illustrated Nasser in front of Pharaonic figures in relief that were holding a Molotov cocktail and a rifle. Following the 1967 war, the cover of LIFE magazine featured an Israeli soldier in the Suez Canal, holding an AK-47 rifle with Arabic numerals. The rifle, combined with a book, pen, and work wrench, symbolize means for "general mobilization" on a 1981 cover of a PFLP bulletin, designed by Marc Rodin. "How does a Palestinian regain his home? With arms only, a Palestinian regains his house" stressed a page in a children’s book published by Dar Al Fata Al Arabi. [7]

With a focus on the 1960s to 1980s, the exhibition is preoccupied with elements that reveal an enduring process of popularizing ideas and the related icons that have persisted over time. Many of these icons reappear in the show, in other practices, in other mediums, and as other’s icons. For instance, Yto Barrada’s Modest Proposal traces the folkloric self-branding through the palm tree as an icon, by compiling in posters elements from the collective, personal and state efforts to "Modernize Morocco and Maximize its Efficiency." Many posters from the Palestine Poster Project Archives [8], not only supported the building of the show conceptually, but also provided visual manifestations as well as variations on the use of these icons (and posters in general), beyond geography, nationality and political affiliation.

"Al-‘Asifah’s first bullet has to be fired close to the ears of the farmers, so that they can hear the sound of liberation of the land.’ That is a revolutionary sound." [9]

In prolonged war, the show spreads war out; all the prolonged practices become landscape, fighters sitting under blooming trees, or standing amidst the chiseled faces of rocky mountains become landscape, monuments for martyrs from previous times also become landscape. Mona Hatoum’s ornamental rendition of a monument in Beirut’s Place des Martyres faithfully reproduces the monument’s disfigurement, having survived the bullets and shells of the civil war. The faces of the monument look like those about to be covered in Amina Menia’s three photographs of scaffolding around a monument located in central Algiers. The monument that was commissioned by the French colonial authorities in the 1920s, in commemoration of French and Algerian soldiers killed in the First World War, was revisited by the modernist M’hamed Issiakhem in 1978. Issiakhem decided to shroud the monument and create a new sarcophagus-like monument – leaving to future generations the decision of how to deal with this piece of history. The title of this work is based on Algerian author Tahar Ouettar’s short story, "The Martyrs Are Returning This Week" (1974), which tells of the agitation of a village, when a martyr’s father receives a letter from his dead son telling him he is returning next week. Shocked, the father takes the letter to confront the corrupt companions, colleagues and leaders, one after the other, exposing the corruption that has permeated his village and the way they managed the memory and legal rights of the martyrs.

In the course of researching works for this exhibition, it was interesting to realize that by the time the Palestinian revolution was announced in 1965, the Algerian revolution had already achieved independence. The commentaries and criticism in the early post-independence literary and cinematic productions in Algeria offer the chance to time-travel and to see the destinies of dreams, demands, and promises of the living and dead heroes of other revolutions.

Neil Beloufa’s Maya is a tilted olive tree resisting falling while being blown with wind from an electric fan. [10]

Does until victory refer to a promise, or illustrates a continuous state of defeat? Several answers can be gleaned from different items in the show. Amid the sense of frustration that permeated Egypt in the early 1970s, many among the younger generation were prompted to move to new territories. Throughout Youssef Chahine’s The Return of the Prodigal Son (1976), the nephew of the main character contemplates the possibility of going "to the moon," and an image of the Moon is seen in the background of many of the scenes, symbolically hovering over the film’s young characters. Elsewhere, a young underground revolutionary (in this case, Saddam Hussein) dreams of an utopian state where people are free to believe and work. [11] Addressing the nation, by looking straight into the camera, the protagonist’s head is shown from within a circle cadre that only shows his face. "On the eve of the Persian Gulf War, several employees gathered at the rear entrance of an Amman hotel, pointing skyward. Framed within the outlines of the moon, they insisted, was a glowing Saddam Hussein dressed in full military garb. Several Jordanians interviewed say the stories are used to explain a defeat many in the region refuse to accept." [12]

In a clip from Jordan Reportage (1968), Hani Jawharieh films men catching with clamps hot steel bars that bend and bow, glowing in and out of furnaces in steel factories. His other camerawork from 1968 to 1976 in Jordan and Lebanon also show laborers in orange factories, fighters in landscapes, audiences in camps, and much more. The "cinematography was beautiful and rarely had the filmmaker found himself with material so dense and of such a large quantity, in spite of the numerous misunderstandings of an overly prepared shoot in an unknown land." [13] Jawharieh was one of many other fellow filmmakers who aimed to create a nation-owned repertoire of images and footage, not only of the struggle but also of all that came in its way.

Between the contemporary artworks and archival materials presented, An Index of Tensional and Unintentional Love of Land looks at the constant transfer of subjects from one place to another, at icons that emerge and recede in the popular imagination, and at artists’ practices that shift towards service of the public, together revealing various modes of relating to pan-Arab nationalism and revolutionary political promise.

 

Notes:
  1. Antoine de Baecque’s account of the production process of Ici et ailleurs, taken from ‘Godard: biographie’ (Grasset, 2004) and was translated by Ted Fendt. Published as Daney and de Baecque on Ici et ailleurs, on Diagonal Thoughts website on 26 November 2012.
  2. Godard worked on Jusqu’a la victoire [Until Victory] with Jean-Pierre Gorin as the Dziga Vertov Group in 1970, but completed the film as Ici et ailleurs [Here and Elsewhere] with Anne-Marie Mieville in 1976.
  3. Jean-Luc Godard, Jusqu’à la Victoire, 1970. Translated by Stoffel Debuysere in the context of "Figures of Dissent (Cinema of Politics, Politics of Cinema)". Godard is quoting Abu Hassan, a Palestinian fedai who published an article in the first issue of the Fedayeen bulletins. Godard’s text was originally published in El Fatah magazine in July 1970.
  4. These and other items were found and purchased through ebay.
  5. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
  6. Masao Adachi, The testament that Godard has never written, 2002. With Kôji Wakamatsu, Adachi shot The Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War (1971) in sites in Jordan and Lebanon for PFLP.
  7. Launched in Beirut in 1974, this influential Palestinian publishing house and PLO’s cultural program, just like the Palestinian revolution, brought on board international artists and writers. The book was illustrated by Mohieddine Ellabbad, who after publishing 67 books in its first year, left his position and Beirut, following the outbreak of the civil war.
  8. www.palestineposterproject.org
  9. Jean-Luc Godard, Jusqu’à la Victoire, 1970, comment by JLG on a quote by Abu Hassan.
  10. Artwork by Neïl Beloufa, Maya, 2008/2014 Tree, isolation foam, Plexiglas, fan, and wires.
  11. Short clip shown in the exhibition from Tewfik Saleh’s film "The Long Days" (1980)
  12. Jocelyne Zablit, Gulf Myths: Saddam On Moon, Angels On Road, Seattle Times, March 9, 1991
  13. Daney and de Baecque on Godard’s rushes for Ici et ailleurs.

Ala Younis

Independent artist and curator, born in Kuwait in 1974. Lives in Amman, Jordan.

An Index of Tensional and
Unintentional Love of Land

Part of the exhibition:
Here and Elsewhere
16 July - 28 September 2014

New Museum
235 Bowery
New York, NY 10002
USA
Website / Email

Project curated by Ala Younis
with works by Adel Abidin, Mustapha Akrim, Yto Barrada, Neïl Beloufa, Mohssin Harraki, Mona Hatoum, Amina Menia, Abdul Hay Mosallam, as well as archival materials and images from Magnum Photos, Arab Image Foundation, Palestine Poster Project Archives, Dar Al Fata Al Arabi publications, Hani Jawhariah's camerawork, Mohieddine Ellabbad's concepts, Tewfik Saleh's films, stamps, postcards, maps, and other items.


Related Content:

Arsanios -M-107
Contemporary art from and about the Arab world, 16 July - 28 Sept. 2014, New Museum, New York. Curator: Massimiliano Gioni, and team. Review and photos.
05
Kuwait’s first Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2013: works by Sami Mohammad, Tarek Al-Ghoussein. Curator: Ala Younis.
09 Bruno Fantoni
Intervention at the Museum of Modern Art, Kuwait, 22 May - 12 July 2012, investigating the social history of Palestinians in Kuwait. Curatorial text by Ala Younis.
Nafas
Back to Top