Thursday, July 29, 2010

Workbook - The Tamkeen Workshops 2002-2004

In 2004 Al-Ma’mal published Workbook as a document of the Tamkeen workshop phase. As with all of Al-Ma'mal's publications, this important record is a work of art in its own right. It incorporates text from Jumana Abboud’s workshop diaries, detailed descriptions of Faten Nastas’s Bethlehem story projects and numerous images from their workshops and those of Luc Chery, Jawad Al-Malhi and Tina Sherwell. Often superimposing text onto the images it also references key movements in contemporary art illustrating clearly how these were incorporated into the workshops and then translated back into clear and unique individual projects.

In Jack Persekian's introduction to Workbook, he not only highlights the practical reasons for the shift of emphasis that occurred with the Tamkeen workshops, but also elaborates on one of the  fundamental premises upon which they were based:

We are constantly bombarded with images and visuals – TV, internet, advertisement, packaging, magazines, presentations etc. Yet we see that our society is not part of that, is not part of the production of these visuals, this information exchange, this means of communication. We are lagging behind with the means, the tools, the know-how and the capabilities to be part of it. We ought to be frightened by the fact that, at this rate, we will always be left behind, never able to catch up with the rest of the developed world: dragging our feet. (Jack Persekian, Workbook, 2004)

What is striking about this statement is the complete absence of any specific situational conditionals especially notable because the Tamkeen workshops coincided with some of the bloodiest events of the second intifada period. The approach taken is one of normality, one that can perceive the future needs of a potential national entity in a global context and as such, can identify skills it will need as a matter of course. The essence of the Tamkeen workshops was to take participants through the whole process of creativity by examining how other artists had worked and how to read and understand the things they had created. This meant formulating and discussing ideas, contextualising them and only then learning the skills that enabled a realisation of their own ideas in the most effective or appropriate way.

This made the workshops comprehensive vehicles for introducing and promoting an awareness of visual literacy as well as providing exposure to practical creative skills. In the process they became an early deposit against Jack Persekian’s fears of a future visual deficit.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tamkeen in Bethlehem - Faten Nastas

Most of the Tamkeen workshops were conducted in the Old City of Jerusalem. Although several were held at the premises of Al-Ma’mal itself, partner institutions also hosted the workshops. Jumana Abboud taught at the Burj Al Laqlaq Centre, Raeda Saadeh at the Old City Youth Association, St. Dimitri’s Orthodox School and St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Youth Club and Jawad Al-Malhi and Tina Sherwell taught at the Spafford Children’s Centre. However, Al-Ma’mal’s good relationship with institutions in Bethlehem meant that there were also workshops conducted there. One of these, an introduction to contemporary art, was facilitated by Faten Nastas at the International Centre of Bethlehem.

1.What were you doing in 2003 and how did you first get involved with Al-Ma'mal's Bethlehem workshop?
Since August 1998, I had been working as the Art Co-ordinator at the International Centre in Bethlehem (ICB). I was responsible for all the activities related to Contemporary Fine Art and to Craft as well. As part of my work, I helped in establishing the "The Cave" Arts & Crafts centre (in Arabic it is called al-Kahf), especially the "Cave Gallery", and the Cave workshop complex. Al-Kahf Centre belongs to the ICB.

The staff of al-Ma'mal, especially Jack Persekian & Jumana Abboud, had known me since I was a student at Bezalel Academy. I graduated from Bezalel in 1998 so kept a good relationship with them and they were aware of my work in Bethlehem.

2. Can you tell me about your approach to the workshop and how you got such varied results?
I had different and various ideas for the workshop. However, my main goal was to introduce the youth to the ‘wide world of the Contemporary Art’, and encourage them to explore new languages for expressing themselves and ideas. So, my approach was more theoretical and philosophical at the beginning. I showed them different works of famous contemporary artists, different techniques, concepts and topics. We had lots of discussions. Then, the second half of the course was practical: after discussing with the youth various ideas, and after choosing their topic and their desired language, I worked as a facilitator helping them or directing them to the know-how and the technicalities of making their work.

3. What were the main challenges during your workshop?
After such a long time, and after celebrating a very successful activity, it is difficult to remember the challenges. I think that my enthusiasm about it was much more than the challenges. However, I remember that in some discussions, it was difficult to reach a few of the young participants. I mean that they were not so open-minded, and heir way of thinking, as well as their work, was not able to embrace something more deep and profound.

Besides, I remember that in the last few sessions, it was hard for me to follow and help each participant individually. It took more time and effort than I expected. But, this is of course due to the technical variety. I remember that 2 students did video works, others did photography, others installation, and there was also sound installation. So, each participant had different demands and I was their only guide.

4. What are your strongest memories of this period?
My strongest memory is how we used to discuss "Art issues", also personal stories and critiques of society. The group of students were great and the majority were very open-minded and spoke about personal stories very openly. This encouraged everyone to take the course seriously and profoundly. It was also like a "soul healing workshop". I was also very happy to see how determined the participants were, they were very proud of themselves and they really worked hard to complete their work and to do the final installation. I will never forget how proud they were during the opening, when they shared the outcome with their families and friends.

5.Did the experience have any impact on your subsequent work?
The experience was enjoyable and I think it empowered me to work more with youth. The following year we had a very successful project at the ICB, where we worked with more than 150 students from different 10 local schools, using "Installation Art as an Advocacy tool for Youth Concerns". Also as part of my work at the ICB, I was a member of the team who worked on the establishment of the Dar al-Kalima College. Today, I am the chairperson of the Visual Arts Department, and I enjoy very much working more and more with Youth and adults. I am sure that this had also an impact on my individual work as an artist, but, I am not sure if I can define it now.

I also have become an observer of Art in Jerusalem and in Palestine. I give lectures about the "Art in Palestine" in our College and abroad. I have actually just come back from an international conference in Sweden where I gave 3 lectures about Contemporary Palestinian Art.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Interview - Jumana Abboud

All of the Tamkeen workshops were specifically directed at young people and were held in partnership with a number of schools, youth clubs and organisations in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. One of the first artists to be engaged for the Tamkeen workshops was Jumana Abboud who taught on site at the Burj Al Laqlaq centre in the Old City, as well as conducting numerous workshops at Al-Ma’mal itself. Her involvement with Al-Ma’mal was to become permanent. After the workshops were completed she remained at the foundation and is today the longest serving member of permanent staff.

1. How did you first get involved with Al-Ma’mal?
I came back to Jerusalem from Canada in 1991. I am originally from the Galilee but wanted to continue art studies at that time and the only possibility for me was to study at the Bezalel Institute in West Jerusalem so I applied for a scholarship. I didn't get it but I stayed and studied there anyway. In 1994 I was walking on Salahuddin Street and it was the afternoon of the opening of Jean Luc Vilmouth's exhibition. I’ll never forget how excited I was to see it. I felt so relieved. After four years of studying at Bezalel, where there was no contact with Palestinian art, here was a very contemporary exhibition related to Palestine happening right on Salahuddin Street. After that I was a regular visitor to Anadiel so that’s how I made the connection.

In 2002 Al-Ma'mal received the Tamkeen workshop grant and it was through this project that I became involved with Al-Ma'mal. Jack invited me and Raeda Sadeh to conduct different workshops at youth centres in the Old City. I taught contemporary art at the Burj al Laqlaq community centre to groups of children aged from 11 – 16. It was mostly painting and drawing. I kept a diary of the workshops and I gave it to Al-Ma'mal as a report of how the workshop was. Sections of it are used in ‘Workbook’ published in 2004 which is an account of Al-Ma’mal activities from 2000 onwards.

2. What were the main challenges in the workshops?
My challenge was to find a way of accessing the students’ imaginations. It was like they had lost the ability to imagine even though some of them were very young. The first thing they would draw would be Al-Aqsa Mosque or a Palestinian flag or a soldier: always something that related not only to reality but specifically to political reality. All their reference points were political and what they drew reflected all the symbols of the conflict and the political context. There were no visions of imagined things. I think this inability to imagine may also partly relate to the local school system as well which is very much focused on rote and passive rather than creative learning.

Also every time you have new group the ice breaking can be the most difficult part and it is also more difficult if they are older. Teenagers especially are resistant to opening up. From teaching workshops I went on to help organise them and one of the things we noticed with all instructors was that the initial workshops were always tough. There was a process through which we had to overcome their defensiveness before they broke down enough to let their imaginations through.

3. How did you deal with these challenges?
It became about practice and making that practice available to the participants. I tried not to be judgemental because then you risk pushing your own visions and not extracting theirs. However, in the end it worked. After a lot of practice I was getting wonderful results and beautiful paintings. I think the most successful were the animal drawings and the paintings influenced by Gustav Klimt. I used images as reference points. I thought of Klimt because he was so colourful so I took the approach of introducing the students to contemporary art through colour.

4. What are your strongest memories of the workshops?
The feedback - what they were all really happy about was the exhibition and the book [Workbook, 2004]. We gave them a group exhibition of their work as did Raeda and others. These always made them feel good. They would bring their family and their friends and they would be so proud. We try up to the present to show a balance of all the participants’ work and it encourages them and makes then want more.

5. How did the staff profile change after the Tamkeen project?
Khadijeh Kanambo had been full time since 1998 and maybe even a little before that. She left in November/December 2009 (hopefully on temporary leave only!). Raeda Sadeh worked in the gallery part-time with Jack before she came to Al-Ma’mal but both Raeda and I started part-time with the workshops in 2002. I then returned as a full-time member of staff in autumn 2003 and Raeda signed up as full time in 2004. She was assistant coordinator of projects but she left in the spring of 2009.

6. How has your work with Al-Ma’mal affected your own art practice/work?
It’s positive that I work in a place that respects me as an artist. It’s a place that encourages my creative development. It’s advantageous to work in an environment that has the same spirit as what I, as an artist, love to do: make art. And it’s a privilege also because at Al-Ma’mal, we focus on making other artist’s projects a success, so I learn to look at the creative process differently and through an administrator’s eye and this help me invent for myself and for my own work a sort of disciplinary formula.