Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Jerusalem Show 2008

The first Jerusalem Show had essentially been a pilot but had worked so well that a decision was taken to make it an annual event:
I think we realised that this was the way forward. Over the previous 10 years Al-Ma’mal had built a presence and established its programmes so people were no longer noticing the work we did in the same way. The Jerusalem Show was a way to sum up the work we do for the whole year and to put it all into one big event using every venue in the city. (Jack Persekian, Interview 2010)

The Jerusalem Show became a way of not only consolidating everything that Al Ma’mal had done but also involving the community directly in an event dedicated to their city. Another practical benefit was that preparations for the show meant that Al-Ma’mal could provide work experience for students and volunteers. Thus when the idea of the second Jerusalem Show was raised in 2008, local organizations and institutions once again enthusiastically offered their support.

The success of the guided tours of the exhibition in 2007 contributed to the underlying concept for the second Jerusalem Show which was Walks in the City with routes inspired by the organization of artworks both indoors and outdoors throughout the Old City. In this sense the walks in the city became a kind of treasure hunt for artworks with some easier to find than others. Emily Jacir created a sound work installed at Damascus Gate (Bab il Amoud). From a speaker mounted on a balcony came calls from servees or communal taxi drivers announcing the departure of the taxis to neighbouring cities like Amman and Damascus, regular taxi routes before 1967. The sound of their voices calling out the city names was a reminder of the once fluid space of movement, connection and exchange.

Less than ten minutes from Damascus Gate in a narrow residential alley was another site-specific installation by Manar Zuaibi called O’shb Akhdar Akhdar (Green Green Grass). Zuaibi threaded wires inside long strings of red wool and inserted the red thread into the holes between stones in the walls so that each then spontaneously burst forth from the holes in the walls.

Intervening in the physical environment in ways that could not be overlooked was a feature of the second Jerusalem Show. Nida Sinnokrot positioned 3mm LEDs throughout the Old City which shone a brilliant blue for approximately 15 days. Once discovered the lights invariably shifted location in the hands of children and adults alike, mapping their own passage throughout the City.

Oraib Toukan worked with an economist to calculate the real market values for the purchase of nation states on a 99-year lease-hold and then produced auction catalogues and signs for upcoming auctions of Middle East territory. Henrik Placht mounted a large neon sign.

25 artists participated in the second Jerusalem Show and several of these were former artists in residence at Al-Ma'mal. The range of mediums were customarily eclectic and included paintings, photography, film screenings, videos and performances including Elizabeth Sansome’s The Secrets of Mary Magdalene


One exhibition was also a truly organically integrated Jerusalem event. It was an exhibition of work from Al-Ma’mal’s workshops in co-operation with Burj Al-Laqlaq Community Centre and Relief International, sponsored by grants from the Pontifical Mission and the Society for Austro-Arab Relations.

Film maker Issa Freij documented the people, the works and the walks of the 2nd Jerusalem Show in a film called Forgive and Forget. While The Jerusalem Show was a chance to experience the city in the here and now the title of the film, Forgive and Forget, was an ironic marker of the 60th anniversary of 1948.

Monday, September 27, 2010


 I remember the day Jack came into the office, handed us a document and said ‘Jumana, Raeda, Khadijeh - here is the idea for the Jerusalem Show. Read it and tell me what you think. I think we should do it this year. (Jumana Abboud Interview April 2010)  
The year referred to was 2007 and another major development for Al- Ma’mal that year was the inaugural Jerusalem Show. Putting on a major art event in the Old City of Jerusalem was an idea that had actually been around for a very long time. The idea was not only discussed at Anadiel in 1996/97, but was developed to the extent that Anadiel produced a blueprint banner for the potential event which even then was being referred to as the Jerusalem Show.

In 1997, however, it didn’t go any further and it took ten years for the Jerusalem Show to become a reality. According the Jack Persekian there were two reasons for this:
The main reason is that in 1997 I didn’t have the confidence to put such a project together – and of course I thought it would cost too much money that we just didn’t have.

By 2007 I had done a few Biennials and put on big shows. This gave me a lot more confidence and I thought that money would come regardless. The main thing was to get the artists and the plans and just pull it together. (Jack Persekian, Interview April 2010).

And pull it together they did. The first Jerusalem Show titled Outside the Gates of Heaven was held from October 20 to 30 2007. It featured  22 artists including both local and Diaspora Palestinians and international artists with work shown in different locations throughout the Old City. Al Ma’mal’s network of artists, institutions and partners built up over the preceding ten years provided venues, collaborative projects and various other kinds of cooperation and support. The Show was described by Al-Ma’mal in the following way:

The Jerusalem Show is neither a biennial nor a one-time event. It is neither a large-scale show nor an international grand exhibition. We like to see it as an attempt to intercede between the apocalyptic decadal tides of upheaval under which the city kneels, stealing time during the ebb of violence to wage an action of covert resistance to the forced hegemony of one creed and one people on the city. (Al-Ma’mal (2007) website text).

Naoko Takahashi

As well as the art itself there were several other components to the Jerusalem Show. Jack Persekian led guided tours of the exhibition in which audiences were taken on a voyage of discovery through the narrow streets and alleys of the city, up onto rooftops and into community centres and clubs. Another unique tour organized by the Centre for Jerusalem Studies (CJS) at Al-Quds University took visitors underground on the Old City Tunnel Tour.

There was a workshop programme with Samira Badran and Rula Khoury organized by the Palestinian Art Court – Al Hoash and held at the Saraya Center for Community Services. There was a performance by Sydost a contemporary dance group who had been invited by the Swedish Christian Study Centre. There was a special performance by Al-Hakawati Theatre’s Francois Abu Salem of Mahmoud Darwish’s A Memory for Forgetfulness at the Palestinian National Theatre.

There was also a special concert screening called Entry Denied. In 2002 Marwan Abado and his band had been invited to perform a concert in Jerusalem but they were detained on arrival in Tel Aviv airport and denied entry. Emily Jacir asked Abado and his band to perform the concert in an empty theatre in Vienna, exactly as it would have taken place in Jerusalem. She filmed the performance and brought the concert to Jerusalem in 2007. Its screening in the Tile Factory building was an additional defiance enabling Al Ma’mal to present the Tile Factory space to an audience and to incorporate it into the framework of the Jerusalem Show regardless of its unrenovated state.

The Jerusalem Show was unprecedented and therefore risky, but it worked on many different levels and established another benchmark for the future of cultural life and creative activity in the City. It also contributed much to fulfilling another of Al Ma’mal’s stated objectives for the show:
….. to re-define our work and position in Jerusalem from that of artistic space-fillers to activists. In a context and time such as this, art, culture, activism, manifestations, political protest, social work, etc., are all part of our actions and our understanding of what a show in Jerusalem should entail. (Jack Persekian 2007, Al Ma'mal website text)

For full participant list please click here: 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

2007 - Contemporary Art Museum Palestine (CAMP)

2007 was another turning point for Al-Ma'mal in several ways. The internationalization of the Foundation consolidated by Jack Persekian’s move to Sharjah opened up new possibilities one of which was CAMP - Contemporary Art Museum Palestine. This idea had slowly emerged as Al-Ma’mal accumulated its own art collection going back to the early days of Anadiel, and including works by almost all of Al-Mamal’s artists-in-residence over the years. There was no museum for contemporary art in Palestine nor was there likely to be one in the foreseeable future. Any idea that the Tile Factory might be able to house part of the collection continued to be thwarted by municipal and other absurdities.

The idea for CAMP first started to emerge around 2004 – 05. I thought through several questions - how can I safeguard these works, give them exposure, ensure conservation and guarantee their care without some permanent infrastructure or the know how of a museum? I concluded that the best thing to do was partner with existing institutes or museums. I was always looking for partners and trying to sell this idea to them
In the end I secured several partners and that is how CAMP was born although before this stage the whole conceptual level of this had been in my mind for quite a while. The project works beautifully on a conceptual level. It was a collection but in a Diaspora – Al-Ma'mal’s actual physical art collection but constantly mobile and never able to be shown in one place until some future point when we have the resources the infrastructure and the actual physical space to open a Contemporary Art Museum of Palestine. Another nice aspect of this is that some pieces don’t exist physically they have to be re-assembled like Jean Luc Vilmouth’s piece. (Jack Persekian, Interview April 2010)

This customarily innovative solution would reinterpret both the premise and the parameters of the museum as a national institution, while still reflecting its significance in terms of national identity. These ideas developed and by 2007 the CAMP project was outlined in concrete terms with a comprehensive proposal that included the following statement: 

We believe that a contemporary art museum must be a flexible, living organism, an expanding space that will facilitate the realization of cultural projects, empower creative individuals and avoid stagnation. Hence we envision CAMP's essence not as a physical place, but as a real and fluid entity, a nomadic site where dialogue, growth and experimentation are encouraged.
We would like to establish CAMP in a way that might reflect one of the core Palestinian experiences – displacement – without illustrating a political narrative. Moreover, we hope to transform CAMP's nomadic status, which reflects a tragic reality, into a lever for new opportunities, innovative thought and dynamic multi-cultural productivity.
Our project involves the biennial 'nomadic' movement of CAMP, its cumulative art collection and 'portable' structure, from place to place. CAMP will find a temporary 'home' under the auspices of a 'host museum.' The 'host museums' – located across the globe – will be invited to interact with CAMP's presence and to initiate projects and exhibitions. (Al-Ma'mal Proposal for CAMP, 2007)

Al-Ma’mal found an ideal partner in Charles Esches, Director of the Van Abbemuseum  in Eindhoven, the Netherlands (and co-founder, with Mark Lewis, of the international arts journal Afterall). One of the first public museums for contemporary art to be established in Europe, the Van Abbemuseum’s approach fitted perfectly with the rationale set out by CAMP. 

The [Van Abbe] museum has an experimental approach towards art’s role in society. Openness, hospitality and knowledge exchange are important. We challenge ourselves and our visitors to think about art and its place in the world, covering a range of subjects, including the role of the collection as a cultural 'memory' and the museum as a public site. (Van Abbemuseum website 2010)

The Van Abbemuseum has since become the first ‘host’ for some of the CAMP Collection and several works are currently being exhibited for the first time in The Politics of Collecting - The Collecting of Politics, part of a larger Van Abbemuseum project looking at the museum in the 21st century.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Artist-in-Residence – Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen 2006

As noted earlier the work pioneered in the 1990s first by Anadiel, and then Al-Ma'mal, always had a very focussed international dimension. By the mid 2000s, therefore, both Al-Ma'mal and Jack Persekian had established a strong presence in the global, as well as the rapidly growing Middle East arts scene. As a consequence Jack Persekian was offered the job of Head Curator of the 7th Sharjah Biennale in the United Arab Emirates in 2005.

One of the artists participating in the Biennale was Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen who has since had on ongoing relationship with Al-Ma'mal. He was artist-in-residence in 2006 and also a participant in the first Jerusalem Show in 2007.

1. How did you first get involved with Al-Ma'mal?
I met Jack Persekian in Sharjah, UAE in 2005. This was Jack's first year at the biennial and for 5 months I was artist-in-residence at Sharjah Biennial 7. Jack and I spent a lot of time together. Through him, his assistant Rania and through artists I met during my time there I learned about his Art Foundation in Jerusalem. At that time I was in the early days of developing a new strand of my artistic practice - a kind of poetic, reflective, anti-journalistic documentary film making. I thought that Jerusalem would be an immensely challenging place to develop my film making, and I proposed to Jack and to the Al-Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art that I would do a residency in Jerusalem. The following year I travelled to Jerusalem with my cameraman, Jonas Mortensen to embark on a 5 week residency, which to this date has been one of the most inspiring experiences I have ever had.

2. What were the main challenges during your residency at Al-Ma'mal?
My main aim during my residency was to capture on video little poetic moments of everyday life between the immensely heavy political and religious chaos in the region. Every day during my residency I would film, edit and upload a clip of what I had experienced unto a website, All I had ever heard about in the news was related to the ongoing struggle between Palestinians and Israelis, and by depicting small moments of life of a more poetic and sensitive nature than the constant flow of journalistic sensationalism, I hoped to create an alternative vision of life in and around Jerusalem. This became my biggest try and avoid depicting concrete political issues that one would see in news reports.

Recently I made a film in Lebanon together with Lebanese film maker, Corine Shawi. Corine was constantly conscious not to produce what she called 'exotic' footage for our film. And to use her term, trying to stay clear of 'exotic' filmmaking proved to be the main challenge during my residency in Jerusalem.

3. What are your strongest memories of your residency period?
During my time at Al-Ma'mal I was bombarded with impressions much stronger than I ever experienced before. Life, death, faith, politics etc. are a much more present and important part of peoples lives than in Europe. I was shocked by seeing how uncertain the Palestinians' everyday lives are - and that the international community allows the occupation to happen. I have incredible memories from the time I spent there, the people I met, the landscapes I travelled through. One day I felt the conflict on my own body. Jonas and I were caught in a crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians during a demonstration in Belee'n and I was hit by a rubber bullet. An extreme and long lasting rush of pain, fear, anger, frustration, adrenalin etc. was incredibly powerful. In a strange way this incident was one of the most incredible moments of my life. I somehow felt that my work and life had a purpose.

The humiliating architecture of the checkpoints, the sights of the settlements (and ongoing construction of new settlements), the house-demolitions...all these things made me feel that I had an immense responsibility of taking my time in Jerusalem, and the work I made during the residency, really seriously. I learned so much during my time there, and the films I have made since all deal with real life issues.

4. The following year you participated in the Jerusalem Show. Can you comment about your experience of this?
I was really happy to be invited to participate in the Jerusalem Show, and it was a great feeling to return to Jerusalem. On my return I had had a year to digest and reflect on my impressions from my residency. For me, the process of making films and artworks is often more exciting than exhibiting them. But I was really happy to present the sound sculpture 'Satellite' under the dome of an old hamam [public bath house], and I especially liked the process of developing a work (site-)specifically for Jerusalem and its citizens.

5. Do you have any general observations about the art scene you found in Jerusalem / Palestine and the role of Al-Ma'mal?
Perhaps it is different now, but at the time I felt that the different institutions in the region: Al-Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Artschool Palestine, the Biennial in Ramallah etc. could work closer together rather than competing.

6. Any other comments?
I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with Al-Ma'mal Foundation for Contemporary Art.

To see all videos from the project please see:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Artist-in-Residence – Desiree Palmen 2006

1. How did you first get involved with Al-Ma'mal?
I had done a project in Rotterdam called Streetwise (2002). This was a project featuring film and photographs of ‘camouflage suits’ that enabled people to ‘disappear’ in front of surveillance cameras. There were many surveillance cameras in Rotterdam and this is something that interests me very much. I had a solo show of this work in the Nuova Icona gallery in Venice in 2005, a non profit space run by Vittorio Urbani. Vittorio introduced me to Kamal Boullata. My project was composed of pictures and videos and Kamal said if I thought there were a lot of cameras in Rotterdam then I should see Jerusalem!

He said he thought it would be very interesting to do such a project there and he told me about Al-Ma’mal and told me I could apply to their artist-in-residence programme. To my own surprise I immediately said yes. I actually have a friend in Tel Aviv who a few years before also suggested I should do a project in Israel but at that time this seemed too complex. So I had decided that I should wait for a while. However, this project seemed very clear and very easy so I applied to Al-Ma’mal hoping they would like the project and they did. So I went to Jerusalem as an Al-Ma'mal artist-in-residence in 2006.

2. What were the ideas behind your workshop?
The project was related to being in Venice in 2005 because that was also the Biennale year and I had been invited to participate in a biennale collateral event called Reaction organized by Camilla Seibezzi and Vittorio Urbani. For this I made ‘dummy suits’ which were suits designed to look as if you have somebody with you.

For Italy it was great to design these suits which made the wearer look as if they were accompanied by someone else and especially a child. I had several models who wore these suits and they walked among the public and were camouflaged among the crowds watching the other performance events happening around Venice.

So this idea is what I took to Jerusalem. I asked the young people in the workshop to make a suit that made them feel that they were with someone else. They could choose the kind of situation they wanted to be in with this other person – it could be a fight or a dance or an embrace – they decided. In many cases they had to help each other and this was often done by one person wearing two layers of clothes and getting into the position another student wanted for their ‘dummy’.

So they sometimes had to get very close and sew the clothes together around other people’s bodies or behind their heads. Then the dummy person would slip out of the second layer of clothes and these would then be filled with stuffing. They connected really easily with the work. It was kind of hilarious for the kids to have to sew persons to each other and as well as being fun it was perhaps a legitimate way to break down some of their own barriers and get closer to each other. What was nice was that they all seemed to understand perfectly what the project was without the need for language. I was also helped tremendously throughout the whole project by Jumana (Abboud), Khadijeh (Kananbo) and Raedah (Saadeh) at al Ma’mal.

3. What were the main challenges during your stay at Al-Ma'mal?
The challenge was not with the workshop but with the project I did for my residency. This was a repeat of the Streetwise project in Rotterdam except doing it in Jerusalem seemed trickier because I imagined it was possible I would get arrested for such a project.

The project works on a number of levels. Plain suits are painted so that they are camouflaged in the area overlooked by surveillance cameras. This is filmed by a camera attached to the real surveillance cameras so the video will have more or less the same perspective as the surveillance film.

I had already sent plain white suits to Jerusalem and then I looked for good locations. Kamal was right - the streets in the old city were all monitored. Sometimes I wasn’t sure there were really people watching some of the cameras I found because they looked so old and dusty.

The first lot of suits I painted I used my own camera. For the final photo and video work a friend and professional camerawoman Jutta Tränkle came from Berlin to help. We worked five days very intensively and at the end the police did come.

Being both artist and Europeans made a difference but it’s a tricky thing in this situation. What I found very interesting was how some of the police actually seemed to like the idea of what we were doing. It was also very interesting to see how Israelis and Palestinians connect. Before you go there you think the situation is black and white but the reality and the practicalities are very different. People are in close proximity and in daily contact so they have to find a way of living together.

4. What impact did the experience have on your work?
Underlying this project was an existing and ongoing theme in my work. I am wary of artists just turning up in a situation like this, doing a project and then showing it in a gallery back in Europe. For me it was a repetition of Streetwise in a different environment so it wasn’t just a product of the situation in Jerusalem.

My interest comes from the idea of fear as a selling point that legitimises increasing surveillance. In the case of Europe it is sold as something that is for protection and for the good of the population but it is about control, power and investment. This is something that concerns us all and I think the degree of surveillance in Israel was an indication at that time of where we were heading. So the project helped to develop this idea.

Al-Ma'mal was the first and only time I did a workshop with kids but I have recently begun planning another workshop with young people in Istanbul. It’s not something I usually think about but young people especially like my work so I am hoping to do a similar project next year. The workshop was an integral part of the residency with al-Ma’mal and I think it is a very good thing.

5. What are your strongest memories of your time there?
As I mentioned earlier the thing that struck me most strongly was that all the people in Palestine and Israel ultimately have no choice but to live together. It made a very strong impact. After being there I thought about it all in a very different way from before. I saw the huge connection there between east and west and how much it is all there in European history. I didn’t realise that until then.

It is great that Al-Ma’mal opens the door like this for international artists. It is a very good way to create possibilities for artists whatever kind of work they do.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Artist-in-Residence – Wafaa Yasin 2006

Wafaa Yasin was born in the Galilee in 1980. She recently completed an MFA in Fine Arts and Social Practice at the California College of the Arts. She conducted a workshop for Al-Ma’mal in 2006.

1. How did you first get involved with Al-Ma'mal?
Al-Ma'mal was the only organisation that was active in Jerusalem and the only independent Palestinian organisation interested in this kind of thing so I was always aware what they doing and often went to their events. I got involved after I graduated from Bezalel in 2005. I met Khadijeh [Kanambo] right after I graduated and she suggested I apply for the workshop programme. I wanted to work with something like this rather than work with an Israeli arts organisation so I submitted a proposal. I talked about performance art and using the body as a medium and proposed teaching them as potential young artists rather than just kids doing a workshop. I was interested in how I could use the workshop to make art a part of daily life in the sense that they could create at anytime beyond our weekly meetings. So they could think of this workshop as the start of their own art career if they decided to become a professional artist one day. For me they were young artists already.

In my interview I talked about why I was interested in Al-Ma’mal, how I wanted to use my knowledge with the kids and also how I could explore my own creativity at the same time. I was really interested in giving the kids a new understanding of contemporary art that allowed for multi-creativity. I wanted an organisation that would support this.

I was always interested in teaching but the problem was that other opportunities were very much controlled by a system. At Bezalel part of the course involved a programme in high schools but there was not really an appreciation of contemporary art and the art of expression. There were classroom and curriculum rules and conventions of teaching that was not as challenging. I registered with the school board and briefly taught an after school programme but I could not teach in the way I needed to.

The fact Al-Ma’mal had mixed groups of kids from Jerusalem was also very interesting for me. Because of the political situation I felt that they could really have a lot to say and to express. I wanted to show them how to use the body in the creation of an art work and also how any materials can be used as art. I always went to lots of different stores and brought all sorts of weird materials together to show them how they could create something out of absolutely anything.

2. Can you tell me something about how you conducted your workshop and how you got so many different and interesting results?
I started from basics – drawing. I brought a mirror in for each kid and got them to start drawing themselves in a simple way. Then I moved on to painting and photography and then I started to bring the materials from the different stores in Jerusalem. I would give then a theme often connected with identity or memory and link that to the streets of the city itself. For example, I told them to take a walk with a camera and search for something related to them or their own interests in the city. It could be anything but they had to come back with a series of images that had a concept they could identify – it could not be random like a tourist. After this experiment with stills narrative we talked about how to create a video piece. One super creative student wanted to just play with a ball through the Old City starting from New Gate [near Al-Ma’mal]. He would move through the crowds playing with the ball while someone documented his journey. It was a performance based completely in the city and this was not an easy thing to do either physically or culturally.

In some classes I talked about other artists and how they used their bodies as tools for art. I showed them Mona Hatoum’s videos [Them and us…. and other divisions (1984] in which she crawled on the street. It was very easy for them to understand her performance and one student was so interested in this performance he wanted to imitate what Mona Hatoum did but in the Old City. He wore a mask because he didn’t want to be distracted by the crowd and he started crawling. He was also covered in fabric so he couldn’t see anything. This meant that the other kids had to lead him and film him so it became a collaborative group exercise.

Sometimes I chose locations for specific reasons. We had filmed in the Christian and Muslim quarters of the Old City but I also took the kids to film in the Jewish quarter. I didn’t want to them to be afraid and I wanted to make them express themselves in areas that they didn’t feel they belonged. This also gave them a different audience. They were super creative there as well. They had an open space near David’s Citadel and their mission was to create a video.

My method was always to bring a few basic materials that they could use as props if they needed them. In this case I had some tape. First they made a frame on the wall from the tape and then picked small flowers and started painting in the frame in the wall. Then one student created a circle and put it in a tree so that the top of the tower was behind it from a certain perspective. All of the ideas came from them but the point for me was to let them understand that in order to make a performance you don’t need more than your body.

Everyone would stand and watch as the kids worked and this made them very happy. I really felt that the city needed these kids and that they needed more freedom and opportunity just to do things like this. The simple act of expressing themselves in their own city created a nice environment. Many people asked them what they were doing and this made them really proud because they were not used to receiving positive attention. Most were so creative and I really felt that I had helped to open this gate for expression even though it was very hard at the beginning.

3. What were the main challenges during your workshop?
The most challenging thing was how to keep the group together while also treating everyone individually and working out when to be involved and when I needed to withdraw. They were very different people and also different ages so addressing this balance between group and individual was sometimes hard. However, I usually gave them the same mission but got them to do it in a different way with different materials. Another challenge was how to keep it interesting and enjoyable while also getting them to understand and embrace the reality that there are tedious parts of being an artist or indeed being anything in life.

4. Do you have any other observations about your workshops or about Al-Ma'mal itself?
All the participants surprised me but I think the freedom I had to explore ideas, methods and materials helped me get the best out of them. Al-Ma'mal gave me a space in which I was completely free to act and I didn’t have to compromise on what the creative possibilities were. I also enjoyed the fact that in the final project I got the kids themselves to come with proposals and Al-Ma’mal was totally open to try and facilitate their ideas. Nothing was ever ruled out until it had at least been tried. The final exhibition very conceptual and made you ask yourself questions. Visually it looked beautiful too with all kinds of material and all kinds of work ideas and installation.

It was a great start for me personally right after graduating. I didn’t only learn how I could build a workshop and build up a group but I also learned a lot in terms of understanding myself and my own forms of expression through the workshops.

Wafaa Yasin Interview – August 5th 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Artist-in-Residence Interview – Alban Biaussat 2006

In 2006, Al-Ma’mal very efficiently utilised many of its artists-in-residence as contributors to the workshop, exhibitions and creative encounters programmes. As well as being residents Alban Biaussat, Wafa Yassin, Desiree Palmen, Mario Rizzi, Alain Gignoux and Nikolaj Skyum Bendix Larsen either gave artist’ talks, conducted workshops or had exhibitions. In some cases all three. A’laa Khanjar also conducted a workshop in 2006.

What follows are transcripts of interviews conducted with several of the Artists-in-Residence during this period. First Alban Biaussat.

1. How did you first get involved with Al Ma'mal?
I first contacted Al Ma'mal upon my arrival in Jerusalem in July 2002, (I came for other professional motives), as I was looking into the local art scene, searching for some sort of organisation or platform to associate with in order to engage in a photo / art projects. I had no particular idea of what  I wanted to do at the time, and was mostly looking for other people to discuss and do something with. It took me a couple of years to have the idea of the Green(er) Side of the Line project and about a year to do it, on my own. I only came back to Al Ma'mal once I had shot most of the photos, to show them my project and see what we could do about it. They found it interesting and decided to support its post-production and the organisation of an exhibition within the framework of their residency programme.

2. What were the main challenges during your residency / workshop at Al Ma'mal?
As  I was already living in Jerusalem, I did not need the usual support of a residency programme in Palestine. My understanding is that Al Mamal typically does not finance the post production of residency projects but the realisation parts. In my case it was the opposite and it proved most useful as that was what i most needed to take my idea and work out to the public. Al Ma'mal people helped with the editing of the exhibition, financed the costs of high quality scanning, printing and mounting, organised the exhibition in their space in the Old City for over two months, and helped organise other solo shows in Ramallah (Sakakini Centre) and with Birzeit's art museum. On my side i agreed to participate in their workshop series involving 10-20 Palestinian kids from Jerusalem. Al Mamal works with great cultural staff who contributed a lot to the workshops and helped me manage the participants and with translations in Arabic.

The objective of this series of workshop was to bring these kids, aged 7-16 if i remember correctly, to create some work related to the Green Line, either as a visual production and/or as an interpretation of the notion of border, separation etc. During first workshops, we showed them other relevant art works, i explained to them my Green Line project, we then encouraged them to work on imagining and sketching the creations they would like to produce. I also gave them an introduction to photography and encouraged them to practice. We then went for an entire afternoon in a park where they realised their ideas. A group worked using their bodies, others with natural elements, and a third group with artificial materials, and all took photos of their realisations. These were printed and the final workshop was dedicated to discussing the results and selecting which ideas and works to finally exhibit. Overall, i very much appreciated this experience, for i think, some of the kids at least, have enjoyed it too ! The main challenge, or say my main regret, was that i could not directly engage fully with many of them because of the language barrier.

3. What impact did the experience have on your own work?
It was important, in the sense that it gave me confidence in exploring further my photo documentary practice, which insists on a large degree of creativity, backed with solid content and analysis, to deal with complex and polarized issues. I also appreciated the support and liberty that Al Mamal gave me to organise activities on the side of the Green Line project and exhibition, from film screenings, debate with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, to the renting of a bus to take 50 people along the line. Mixing art with other forms of expressions, whether official, serious or recreative, to promote an idea or illustrate complex situations, has been a matter of sustained interest on my side. Although, they were many other reasons for my choice to leave Jerusalem in late 2006, to return to Europe and develop my photography further, this experience has contributed a great deal to it. I have since produced several other bodies of work, which follow the same ambition and practice, several about Palestine and Israel again. Al Mamal later agreed to exhibit one of them, called Rainbow Stickers, in its first edition of the Jerusalem Show in 2008.

4. What are your strongest memories of your time there?
I have strong memories of the realisation part, when i used to travel all around the territory, putting my ribbons and green balls in various places, which led me into a few comic or unexpected situations. But i guess a strong memory of my collaboration with Al Mamal has been when i finally saw the Green Line exhibit up on the walls. After 2 or 3 years thinking about this project and imagining how best to represent an invisible border, quite unsure of my choice until the end, i expected that it could work, or not, depending on general impression that one would have seeing all these photos with their green ribbons and balls when exhibited together. One photo or two could have been sufficient to promote the concept, but systematically representing the line in its various locations, and showing a quite important number of images (55 in the exhibition) all with a green reference gives this work more documentary credibility and reinforces its visual force and coherence. And i was rather pleased with the results, also because of the quality of the printing and mounting of the photographs. But of course, if i had to do it again now, i might change a few things...

5. Do you have any additional comments about Al-Ma'mal and the art scene in Jerusalem at that time?
I spent 5 years in Jerusalem, working on policy matters related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in parallel with my activities as a photographer. This has certainly affected the way i lived my time here and how perceived the place, but it has also given me access to many different situations. I left Jerusalem in late 2006 with a feeling that almost everything had been already written, said or argued about this conflict, which was trapped in words, and sometimes in representations of anecdotes. The reality of course for those who live it daily is another thing. The last interesting tool for resistance and pacification, in a context of war of information led by spins on all sides, seemed to me to be creativity and some sense of humour and mockery, to promote alternative views. All of which can be best mixed together and promoted in art. I was then interested to see how both Israelis and Palestinians seemed to fight this war of information with growing references to cultural and fashionable productions. This seemed to me as having a great potential, especially on the Palestinian side, to change so many widespread perceptions. Therefore, i have always valued Al Mamal's work and objectives, in addition to its invaluable contribution to bring some ceative light to the Palestinian neighborhoods and people of East Jerusalem. By the time I left, it was my impression that the Palestinian cultural scene was gaining momentum, with new centres, galleries, festivals etc opening in East Jerusalem, the West Bank as well as internationally, all of which deserve to be encouraged as much as possible, not forgetting Gaza.

Alban Biassat
Interview July 2010