Pattern Recognition showcases contemporary Palestinian art
London - A deeply personal video of family history, acrylic on canvas prints, sound performances and mixed media installations are among works by Palestinian artists shortlisted for the Young Artist of the Year Award 2016 on display in London’s Mosaic Rooms.
The biennial award, organised by the A.M.Qattan Foundation, is open to Palestinian artists up to the age of 30. Pattern Recognition, from which the exhibition takes its name, was the theme of the 2016 award. The patterns explored in the works deal with the recurring themes of Palestinian life and history, especially the cycle of violence, destruction and reconstruction.
The winner, Inas Halabi, produced a video in which members of her family tell the story of her grandfather’s scar, the result of an injury inflicted by an Israeli soldier in the 1940s when he was fleeing from his home in Palestine.
“In general, I am interested in the relationship between the individual and the collective, the construction of memory and various historical narratives but this was the first time I focused on my family and included my family in my work,” Halabi said.
“The story of my grandfather’s scar is also part of a broader history. In 1948, the Nakba happened to Palestine. To treat it in a more personal way was very refreshing for me. It was also very difficult and challenging. The process was different from other works which were about other people’s stories — not mine.”
In the video, Halabi’s mother, grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins and her brother and sister sit on a sofa and answer the same question: How do you remember the story of grandfather’s scar? When they finish speaking, they drink a glass of water, their image fades and the next speaker appears. The video is called Mnemosyne, which refers to the Greek goddess of memory. The glass of water is a reference to the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in Greek mythology.
“That is why they drink the glass of water after they have told their story,” exhibition curator Nat Muller explained. “The suggestion is that if they told the story again it would be a different story. These different versions tell us about how memory works and how fickle it can be. It is a personal narrative and in Palestine a personal narrative becomes a collective narrative.”
In line with the exhibition’s theme, an open call for work was made to young Palestinian artists to explore the ideas of repetition, rhythm and return and to think about issues of geography, memory, fact and fiction, past and present — issues that influence the Palestinian condition. Nine artists were shortlisted.
“I was their mentor and helped them develop the work from a proposal on paper to an actual work that can be exhibited,” Muller said. The works of the nine artists were exhibited in Ramallah in October. Six works are on display at the London exhibition.
“Some of the works were very fragile and difficult to transport,” Muller said, “but there were also logistics problems in getting the work out of Gaza. One female artist, Majdal Nateel, made 26 sculptures, which were impossible to transport. We could not get them out of Gaza and an artist in the West Bank reproduced her work.”
Commenting on problems facing artists in Israeli-blockaded Gaza, Muller said: “When you work on such a project you are confronted with the reality of the immobility of some of the artists. They can’t get out of Gaza to bring their work to the West Bank or to attend the opening of an exhibition in which their work is featured…
“What is so rewarding working on a project like this is that despite very trying conditions, artists produce work with meaning and if that is not hope, I don’t know what hope is. That is really encouraging because it really speaks of resilience.”
The second prize went to Somar Sallam for her video Disillusioned Construction, which shows how a crocheted patchwork blanket was made and then unravelled, a reference to the artist’s personal experience of displacement and unravelling as a refugee.
Majd Masri’s acrylic on canvas prints titled Haphazard Synchronizations use the same iconic 1970s photo of a Palestinian female fighter with a flower between her lips, in different artistic styles ranging from Greek icon paintings to the works of political Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali. The art styles correspond to periods in Palestinian political history and show how the artists were affected by events such as the Nakba.
Pattern Recognition is on view at the Mosaic Rooms, London through March 18th.