Friday, April 23, 2010

Up and Running - The Programmes in 99

After securing the Ford Foundation grant in 1998, valuable practical donations also started to arrive. There was photography lab equipment from the UNDP, office equipment from Dr. Baerbel Stark and the Youth Press Organization of Brandenburg, picture frames from the Goethe Institute and Hessen, and assistance with books and publications from Pro-Helvetia. There were also committed volunteers like Ilona Hazboun, Daphna Golan and Kristin Klank, and assistance for Al-Ma'mal's participation in Sao Paulo from Pauline Laboulaye and George Nasser. During this early period, plans were being made on the basis that the Tile Factory would be up and running within a year or two. However, as progress on the Tile Factory continued to remain elusive, Al-Ma’mal’s programmes constantly had to juggle with available space and time:
It was very hard. Organising all the photography workshops, exhibitions, artists-in-residence and artist projects, in parallel with trying to get the Tile Factory up and running was extremely frustrating and very time consuming. (Jack Persekian, 2010)
Despite this, all of Al-Ma’mal’s programmes went ahead in 1999. The photography workshops continued with the existing partners and also expanded to include four more: the Palestinian Youth Club, the Arab Catholic Club, the Medical Relief Society and the African Community Centre. Three more instructors were also taken on board: Osama Silwadi, Atta Oweisat and Montserrat Casanova, and in late 1999, Al-Ma’mal launched two contemporary art workshops as well. These were taught by Nina Vero and took place in the Coptic School in Jerusalem and Dheishe Refugee Camp in Bethlehem.

Palestinian artist-in-residence in 1999 was film-maker, Sobhi Zubaidi but the first Al-Ma'mal international artists-in-residence also arrived in Jerusalem that year. In the continuing absence of the Tile Factory, the artists were hosted by the East Jerusalem YMCA. The first was American photographer, Zoe Leonard (above) who participated in a photography workshop program and had a solo exhibition at Al-Ma'mal. The second was Swiss photographer, Beat Streuli whose street portraits of young people in Jerusalem were exhibited at Anadiel and the third, was German photographer Peter Riedlinger (below) residency spanned 1999 and 2000.

Other exhibitions in 1999 included a 'A Greek in India' by photographer Anis Georgiou and a show of work produced by the second batch of workshop trainees. The work produced in the 98 and 99 workshops was published a year later in a book called Xposure along with the images created by the visiting artists. The backdrop to all the photography is Jerusalem and the city features in most of the work. Trainees photographed their environment and neighbourhoods and their families and friends, while the architecture and people of the city dominate the work of the artists-in-residence. A photography series by 1998 workshop tutor, Noel Jabbour was also included in Xposure.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

São Paulo and Shu Fi?

Khalil Rabah closed down his architectural practice in 97/98 in order to focus on creative work, his arts related jobs and Al-Ma’mal itself. As noted earlier, two pivotal events for Al-Ma'mal in 1998 were producing ‘Shu Fi?'/What’s Up? - A Guide to Cultural Activities in Palestine’, and participating in the XXIV São Paulo Biennale in Brazil. Founded in 1951, the São Paulo Biennial is the second oldest biennial in the world, the oldest being Venice (1895), so representation at São Paulo was significant:
Our participation in the Sao Paulo Biennial was a very memorable time. It was then I realised we had made a fundamental transition and were now irreversibly part of the international scene. It was a rare moment of reflection on how far we had come in so short a time. (Khalil Rabah, Ramallah, 2010)
While the São Paulo Biennale was taking place in October and November 1998, Huda Imam remained in Jerusalem looking after the gallery and working on Al-Ma’mal:
When Jack and Khalil were in Sao Paulo I worked at Anadiel. I also worked at the Al-Ma'mal building and along with Rula Kalawani created the darkroom. This was a very special time. We had Al-Ma’mal and I was there helping to set things up while Jack and Khalil were participating in an international biennale for the first time ever. (Huda Imam, Jerusalem 2010)
Setting up the darkroom and putting other essentials in place enabled Al-Ma'mal to begin 1999 with the resources available to host its own workshops. Completing all the production work for 'Shu Fi? / What's Up?' by the end of 1998, also meant that the new year could begin with Edition 1 of the magazine. So in January 1999, Palestine's first contemporary Arts and Culture Magazine was launched. Like the early funding proposals, the dedication and care that went into producing ‘Shu Fi?/What’s Up?’ made each edition a self-contained work of art.

Shu Fi? was wonderful. I am getting goose bumps just thinking about it. There were 15 editions and we did everything. We chose the themes, all the material and arranged the layout - we were the graphic designers, the editors and even the distributors. Each had a print run of 1000 copies and we distributed them in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus, Gaza, all over. People still associate Al Ma’mal with this. (Khalil Rabah, Ramallah, 2010)

The magazine was large format and contained images, artwork and information related to a theme, an artist or artists, or a residence project. For example, the April edition focused on Artist-in-Residence, Zoe Leonard, and July on Iranian artist, Shirin Neshat. August featured nine Palestinian artists, September was a study of Russian contemporary art and October was all about architects and museums. In November details of Caravaggio paintings were beautifully reproduced in an edition that referenced Christianity and art.

The Palestine Cultural Events listed in each edition were extensive, and covered all major Palestinian cities and art forms including cinema, dance, theatre and music as well as exhibitions and workshops. There were even notifications about guided tours with the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange. However, in 2000 things dramatically changed:
Camp David failed, Ariel Sharon went to Al-Aqsa and we were suddenly in another intifada. The closure of the territories became tighter and eventually even Bezalel (Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem) couldn’t get me a permit to enter Jerusalem from Ramallah. For a while I was going through back roads to avoid the checkpoint, and working for free because without an official permit they couldn’t pay me. I then managed to do some work on the Bethlehem 2000 project but in the end I went to London after being offered a one year residency at the Delfina Institute. (Khalil Rabah, Ramallah, 2010)

The absence of Khalil combined with difficulties in securing funding meant that production of Shu Fi?/What’s Up was suspended. The next edition did not appear until February 2002. It was no longer the cultural information resource that it had been but there was a poignant continuity:
The last four editions were only about artist projects. Jack told me later that when they agreed on making a publication part of the artist-in-residence package, he insisted they take the name and the format of What’s Up? (Jumana Abboud, Al-Ma'mal, 2002 - present)

Of the final four editions (12-15), three were published in 2002. Edition 12 was on photographer Luc Chery's workshop project and Edition 13 explored the Art of the Khatchkars (Saint James Monastery, Jerusalem). The focus of Edition 14 was an exhibition of paintings related to Jerusalem by Jumana Al Husseini and was dedicated to the memory of Faisal Al Husseini who had died earlier that year. The final edition of Shu Fi?/What’s Up was published in 2003 and contained images and text from Emily Jacir's Artist-in-Residence project, '(im)mobility'.

(The only cover image missing is Edition 1)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

1998 Continued

The photography workshops brought children from different backgrounds and different parts of the City together. They also brought together groups of artists which contributed much to the evolution of Al-Ma’mal as a centre for art. There was no place in Palestine at that time where photography could be studied and where both young and more experienced photographers could learn and develop their skills. The youth clubs and community centres perceived photography as a practical, as well as a creative skill, and thus saw the workshops as potentially opening up job opportunities for the young people involved. Rula Halawani, Project Director from 1998-2000 recalls this period as follows:
The first workshops at Al-Ma’mal were very interesting. The kids enjoyed them. I enjoyed them and some of the work they produced was fantastic. I set up workshops and trained other photographers and later I taught adults which was another positive experience. I was also an artist-in-residence, and in 1998 Al-Ma'mal used a series of photos of working children, which I had taken in the early nineties, as one of their first artist projects.
The workshops were part of the Jerusalem Network Programme which was just one of Al-Ma’mal’s three programmed areas of activity. The Artist-in-Residence programme was organised throughout 1998 (in order to commence in 1999), while the Cultural Information Programme was very busy! In 1998 it established a network and database of cultural institutions in Palestine and links to various arts institutions and projects abroad. It also organised subscriptions to international art publications in order that students, artists and visitors could access knowledge and information about trends and issues in international contemporary art.  In addition to this, the Cultural Information Programme had two more major accomplishments in that first year. The production of a monthly arts and culture magazine Shu Fi? Or What’s Up? and last, but certainly not least, Al-Ma’mal became the first ever official Palestinian representative at an international biennale - the XXIV Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

1998 - The First Workshops

The first six workshops on ‘Introductory Photography’ were conducted between July and November 1998 at Al –Ma’mal’s partner institutes. At this stage, photography was the obvious first step. Its familiarity made it the most easily accessible art form and perhaps ironically, it was the form that had most dictated the Palestinian narrative in the international media.

The young participants were supplied with cameras, film, darkroom facilities, photographic material, books and a photo archive and were then trained in both technique and aesthetics. The main purpose of the workshops was to provide individuals from Jerusalem and the vicinity with an opportunity to engage creatively and explore alternative means of self-expression. Undergoing this process in an environment conducive to group interaction, cooperation, mutual understanding and tolerance was another potential and far-reaching benefit.

Project Director, Rula Halawani taught at the Mount of Olives Youth Club and the East Jerusalem YMCA, Awad Awad taught at the Silwan Youth Club and Shufat Camp, Noel Jabbour at the Arab Orthodox Society Club and Amer Derbas at the Old City Youth Club.

The official opening of Al-Ma’mal took place in the evening of January 30th 1999. The opening event was an exhibition of photographic works by 47 trainees who had participated in Al-Ma’mal’s first six workshops. Around the corner in Anadiel was an exhibition of work by several well known Palestinian artists and photographers. The two exhibitions brought the young photographers and the established artists together and many visitors walked from one show to the other. In the normally silent darkness of the Old City at night, this was a very unusual scene.

Al-Ma'mal and Goats

Meaning ‘workshop’ or ‘small factory’, Al-Ma'mal not only referred to the Tile Factory building itself, but was also the name given to the whole area by the local inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Considering where the Foundation was to be based and what it wanted to do, keeping this name was the obvious choice. The next step was to design a logo. Shireen Mazzawi, the wife of one of Al-Ma’mal’s founders, Samir Srouji, originally proposed the idea of having a goat as a logo and the team realised it made sense on many levels.

First, the presence of goats usually indicates an environment verging on desert and goats are great survivors. They are animals that can feed on anything, can climb or walk on any terrain and they have great perseverance. Whenever the economic situation is dire, more goats start to appear because they are easy to look after and still a form of economic security. According to Jack Persekian:

With Al-Ma’mal we had this sense of being on the verge and the allusion to difficult terrain was very appropriate for Jerusalem. We could envisage Al-Ma'mal as a goat in the desert or navigating the intricate terrain of Jerusalem and regardless of whether we had resources or only plastic bags to feed on we would survive. Lastly it is a beautiful animal and a strong symbol in Palestinian culture so it was also a marker of our identity.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Founding of Al-Ma'mal

The six founders of Al-Ma’mal had already found a suitable Old City venue for the new project. It had been a traditional handmade floor-tiles factory established in 1900 and operational until 1975, when automation and cheaper imports made it commercially unviable. The owners of the Tile Factory, who were members of the Kassissieh family, offered the building to the project for 20 years, rent free. 

The future home of Al-Ma’mal may have had a rich creative history, but in 1997 it was empty and in a very bad state of repair. However, its Old City location meant that funding could be sought in the form of a renovation grant. Anticipating a long process to get permission for the renovation and use of the building, secure the funding and complete the work, the six rented a building near the Tile Factory to be an administrative and exhibition space, and vantage point from which to monitor Tile Factory renovations when they began.

The first major funding proposal from 1997 outlines two distinct entities under the umbrella of a newly named Anadiel Institute of Contemporary Art. The first was called the Jerusalem Network, which would organise year-round cultural activities and house a Cultural Information Office. The second was Al Ma’mal, which at that time was seen purely as an artist-in-residence program for the new premises. The proposal contained detailed plans for the conversion of the Tile Factory to a dedicated residency space including kitchens, bedrooms, a multi-function hall and projection room, workshop and exhibition space.

The application to the Jerusalem Municipality for conversion and renovation of the space was intensely complicated. Realising delays were going to be far longer than anticipated necessitated a change of plan so a second proposal in 1997 designated Al-Ma’mal as one organisation within which all initiatives would be housed. This enabled the organisation to function in the existing premises and be registered as a charity which expanded the funding options. A grant was secured from the Ford Foundation in 1998 and the Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art was finally on its way.

Securing the funding from Ford was a very special moment remarked upon by two of Al-Ma’mal’s founders, Khalil Rabah and Huda Imam. The funding proposals themselves were also very special: beautifully designed and bound with metal studs they were art books in their own right. According to Huda Imam:
We were a model of teamwork. Everyone had put something into creating the proposals. We spent a lot of time with the Graphic Designer (Munther Jaber) who worked with Khalil to produce the artwork and the design. By the time we submitted it to Ford it was already a beautiful product.
Khalil Rabah was very pleased to recall that the hard work on the proposals had not gone unnoticed:

We submitted the proposals to the Cairo office and the reply we got was something like: ‘Whoever can make a proposal like this, I am sure can do something good with the money we give them’.

By the end of 1998 it was obvious that plans for the Tile Factory space had to be frozen. The complex  process of approval seemed endless and when it was finally over, the promised renovation grant was no longer there:

It dragged on for years. By the time we had gone through the courts and obtained all the necessary permissions and paperwork, there was no money. Although the Welfare Association had announced the renovation grant it never actually happened. (Jack Persekian)
As a consequence it was the temporary space that became Al-Mamal’s rather more permanent home. Twelve years on the Tile Factory is still awaiting its renovation grant.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Something is Missing

By 1997, Anadiel Gallery had become the only Palestinian venue that exhibited and hosted artist projects and residencies, and promoted international exchanges. Throughout 1997 it held many groundbreaking shows including ‘Something is Missing’ by French artist Jean-Marc Bustamante. The installation was composed of five locally made metal sculptures of various heights that functioned as birdcages, each containing a live bird. Bustamante’s objective was to mark out a territory, which was at once a prison and a vital space in which movement was constrained but not entirely forbidden. 

Because Anadiel was a private initiative it did not qualify for significant funding from international organizations. Yet it was already serving a crucial function and an expansion of its capabilities and resources was imperative on several different levels. First it was becoming increasingly urgent to open up to artists from all over the world, provide them with the means and resources to visit Jerusalem and produce works that were in dialogue with the place and time.

Secondly, experiences with all the artists and the work they produced, clearly showed the benefits of a creative approach, especially in terms of assessing and expressing the self in relation to the wider dysfunctional environment. These observations underlined the need for Anadiel to develop some kind of educational capacity whereby artists could interact directly with the local community and provide creative skills, especially to young and vulnerable people. However, Anadiel had access to neither the physical resources nor the funds for this kind of a programme.

Realising that change was vital in order to move forward, the decision to establish the Al Ma’mal Foundation was made. Its main aim was to instigate, disseminate and make art in Palestine. They envisioned Al Ma’mal as a catalyst for the realization of art projects with local and visiting artists and believed that their knowledge and skills could be extended further into the community. At the same time there needed to be a mechanism for consolidating the network that had grown from Anadiel and using it to both organise, and provide information about cultural activities in Palestine.

Art is a significant and essential component of both collective and individual identity. We thus believe that a healthy productive society must nurture the creative forces within it and provide its members with opportunities to participate in art and cultural events. Although the creation of an indigenous culture is of vast importance, isolationism and parochialism must be avoided. Hence, in addition to the promulgation of proponents of the local culture we place great emphasis on exposure to international artistic trends. (Al-Ma'mal Statement)

(Photos by Issa Freij)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Political Footnotes

As the apparatus of a state began to emerge, Jack Persekian also worked with the Palestinian Ministry of Culture where he set up a Visual Arts section and in 1996 organised ‘Among Artists’, a major exhibition in Ramallah of Palestinian work. Later that year he was appointed Director of International Relations and Projects and it was there he met Samar Martha who was to become the sixth founder member of Al-Ma’mal.

Although the situation on the ground changed very fast after Oslo, for a short period there were joint cultural projects between Palestinians and Israelis. In 1997 Anadiel was included in the the 'Mobile Seminar' project involving a group of 28 Palestinians and Israelis committed to the arts and to cultural co-operation projects in the wake of Oslo. The 'Mobile Seminar' was an intensive two day study and discussion tour in which the group travelled around the West Bank and Israel visiting key cultural centres.

For another project Anadiel hosted an exhibition on the theme of ‘Home’ featuring the work of Palestinian and Israeli artists. This exhibition was part of a wider project ‘Sharing Jerusalem’ in which the focus was the future of the city as the capital of two states. Israeli and Palestinian academics, intellectuals and activists held a series of symposia on the potential for the city’s shared future and organised special city walking tours. A second exhibition called ‘Down with the Occupation’ involving international as well as local artists was also part of the project. However, in an indication of where things were really heading, no gallery in West Jerusalem was willing to host it. The exhibition had to be held at the Al Wasiti Art Centre in East Jerusalem instead.

At this stage the search for venues, events and exhibition opportunities abroad intensified. Through contacts established by the gallery, Persekian discovered that the prospects of securing small amounts of financial assistance for art projects were higher if they had an international dimension. This discovery consolidated three core ideas: hosting foreign artists in Palestine, initiating exchange programs and placing Palestinian artists in residencies abroad. It was obvious that contacts with the international art scene and exposure to a huge variety of ideas and experiences could re-energize the young generation of Palestinian artists and provide fertile soil for jumpstarting the local art scene. Another factor motivating the gallery to involve international artists more deeply was the deteriorating situation on the ground:
As Jerusalem became more and more constricted, I felt this surging need to let the world in, so new blood could be injected into the local scene. The artists' interest in a dialogue with an environment, a situation, combined with my enthusiasm for a visual/conceptual discourse with the place, the people and the politics provided the ingredients for realising works addressing social, political and humanistic issues from firsthand experience. (Interview, 2005)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Diaspora effect

From the early days, Anadiel exhibited Palestinian Diaspora artists, some of whom had never been to Palestine. Having foreign nationalities and passports, these artists were able to visit as tourists and many projects were made financially possible by the artists’ respective governments. In April 1996 the new premises of Anadiel hosted a solo show by Mona Hatoum. For Khalil Rabah this show was particularly memorable:
When we began to look towards Diaspora artists, Mona Hatoum was just starting to make a name for herself internationally and her solo exhibition at Anadiel in 1996 was an important moment for me. I felt that we really had brought contemporary art to Jerusalem (Ramallah, 2010).
A brand new discourse began to emerge as a result of encounters between visiting and local artists. This explored questions of identity and modernity, the relationship to the land, popular imagery and national iconography. More tangible concerns also emerged about articulation and representation.

At this time the profile of the gallery was also being enhanced by international media interest that had developed with the onset of the peace process. The signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords suggested that the political will did exist for a mutual exit strategy from the conflict. Yasser Arafat returned to Palestine, the Palestinian flag could be displayed without fear of arrest, and a sense of optimism prompted the return of many Palestinians who brought business, knowledge and commitment to the nascent Palestinian state. For a brief period this opened up considerable inflows of both private and international donor investment in the West Bank, particularly Ramallah, and to Gaza, where Arafat was initially based. East Jerusalem, however, was not included in the autonomous Palestinian territories, being one key issue among several postponed under the Oslo Accords. Negotiations on the status of Jerusalem were categorised as a final status issue which ultimately meant that they could be delayed indefinitely. The results of this are now painfully clear.


In late 1995 the lease on the premises in Salahudin Street expired and a decision had to be made about whether or not to continue with the gallery. Given the function that the space had started to serve, losing it would have been quite a blow to the emerging network. Persekian made a decision to relocate the gallery to the Old City where he had a space that used to be the workshop of his father's bookbinding business.

There were concerns with having the Old City as a location. Unlike Salahudin, it was not on a main street and was only accessible by foot so it was possible that less visitors would come. However, these premises meant that the gallery could continue without the constant need for huge amounts of money. So after giving the workshop a good clean, the new Anadiel was established in January 1996. Once again unanticipated things started to happen:
It became the most amazing thing being inside the old city. To work and to have artists visit here and to be part of that history and that environment. It meant that when the decision came to found Al-Ma’mal there was no question about where it would be - inside the Old City. (Jack Persekian, 2010)

This was echoed in a recent comment by another of Al-Mamal's founders, Khalil Rabah, who had also been with Anadiel right from the beginning: 

Losing Anadiel in Salahudin Street was painful but suddenly there was a new vision. Around this time I remember we took part in an exhibition in Geneva connected to the 50th anniversary of the UN. This highlighted the aspects of our art that already had an international identity. Given the international identity of Jerusalem particularly the Old City, Anadiel’s move made perfect sense and was absolutely the right place to be for the next stage of our development. (Khalil Rabah, 2010) 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In the beginning there was Anadiel.

The Al-Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art was founded in 1998 but the story begins six years earlier with the Anadiel Gallery. Going through the Anadiel archives is already throwing up some fascinating facts and images as well as the two most aesthetically pleasing funding proposals I have ever seen. This early period was before digital cameras so there are very few digitised archive images available, however this recent scan shows how the gallery looked.  

Anadiel launched on the 20th January 1992 on Salahudin Street in East Jerusalem as a partnership between Jack Persekian and Issa Kassissieh and was originally intended to function as a business.  They hoped they could sell contemporary Palestinian art to visitors but particularly to Palestinians returning in the wake of optimism generated by the onset of the peace process. Although, some sales were made, business was never good enough to completely cover costs so as a commercial enterprise Anadiel never took off. However, in the early years what began as the first and only independent gallery in Palestine took on an important life of its own. As well as being an exhibition space for local artists it quickly became a gathering place, not only for artists but for an emerging Palestinian cultural network. 

The list of names that exhibited in Anadiel in those early years is impressive and includes many now internationally renowned like Suleiman MansourTayseer BarakatNasser Soumi, Nabil Anani, Vera Tamari and Jumana Al Husseini. Two more, Khalil Rabah and Samir Srouji (whose Family Fortunes from 1994 is shown right), were to become founding members of Al-Ma'mal. 

As more connections were made, the discussions developed and new voices were heard. It became very clear that exhibition space alone wasn’t enough and that opportunities and resources for making art and finding and promoting new artists needed to be provided. What also became clear in the political context was that the principal focus of the gallery space needed to be Jerusalem and Palestine.

Talking to local artists, organising shows and begging for funds became Persekian’s life for several years. He then began looking outwards to the Palestinian Diaspora and international artists, hosting a groundbreaking project by French artist Jean Luc Vilmouth in 1994.  Vilmouth temporarily transformed Anadiel into the Café d'Olivier (or Olive Café). Central to the transformation of the gallery space was the presence of one of the most potent symbols of the conflict, an uprooted olive tree. This engagement of international artists with the situation in Palestine was to become one of the founding principles of Al-Ma'mal.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Al-Ma'mal Foundation, Jerusalem, April 2010

I am very happy to be in the Al-Ma'mal Foundation in Jerusalem where I will be writer-in-residence for the next 10 days.

This is not my first visit to this city. I have been here several times before and actually spent part of the 90s living and working here. This puts me in the rather strange position of being able to understand ‘the situation’. Given its historical, religious and political density this apparent comprehension is quite an achievement. However, at this stage I find it best to perceive it in two ways: either as a scientist, in which case it becomes a challenging model of complexity theory, or as an artist.

Being an artist in this situation has several advantages. It liberates the individual from the frustration of causes and allows a real time analysis of effects. It provides a method to emotionally disengage from political futility and re-engage with human reality. It doesn’t remove the situation but it keeps it at a safe enough distance to maintain sanity and to construct narratives that are true to their creator and thus true to their audience. It is always a two-way process and consistently creates opportunities for constructive communication and progressive thought.

Which brings us rather neatly to Al-Ma'mal…...

This project will be a comprehensive investigation into the history of the Al-Ma'mal Foundation. While inevitably situated within the destructive political realities from which it emerged, the focus of this investigation will be the constructive cultural and social realities it generates.

Using archive images and text, interviews with founders, partners, artists, tutors and beneficiaries, this project hopes to present the work of the Foundation as a series of creative works and stages hence the notion of Al-Ma'mal as a retrospective.

The project will continue after the 10 day residency until the narrative reaches the present. It will then become a permanent archive, information and links resource as well as an ongoing project to which future residents of Al-Ma'mal can also contribute.