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Mapping the way home: I remember 1948

Mireille Astore

Mireille Astore is a visual artist and writer completing a PhD at the University of Western Sydney.

Jayce Salloum, Untitled part 3b: (as if) beauty never ends... (video still) Jayce Salloum, Untitled part 3b: (as if) beauty never ends... (video still)
Among the clutter of a media infested world, grief is found breathing at Sydney’s Performance Space. I remember 1948 is an exhibit of time-based and mixed media works by Arab artists. In this journey into silence and memory, artworks narrate continual acts of erasure. Although the state of Palestine has long been associated with a killing field, its culture remains alive, and its people are constantly searching for truth and a home in which to nurture it.

Many Palestinians still carry around their necks the keys to their homes in Palestine, which they were forced to leave and cannot return to. Al Nakba or "The Catastrophe" is what Palestinians call May 15, 1948 and refers to the day 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes, forced to live in refugee camps or massacred. Al Nakba remains in the Palestinian consciousness as the time when their freedom ceased and it’s yet to be returned.

Many works in I Remember 1948 represent processes of dispossession and disembodiment. The absence of questions in contemporary discourse about the place of the Palestinians is well deliberated by the artists. Walking through the exhibition, I recognised that art was one of the few spaces left for a suppressed but alert and proud people to express themselves. Destiny Deacon's archival footage of her mother's life in Postcards from Mummy at Roslyn Oxley9 fused themselves in my mind to Alexandra Handal's ongoing installation, RememberOnce. In this piece, Handal retells personal stories of early and first wave Palestinian war victims by writing them over Israeli tourist guides. Patrick Abboud's olive-filled map of Palestine resonated with Fiona Foley's chili filled floor piece recently shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Aboud’s installation consisted of a floor map of Palestine covered with olives, with small lights marking the old cities. Above, video projections on muslin of olive trees and branches offered the viewer a channel for hope and peace. The soundscape–of Palestinian voices reciting names and street addresses signaled the role of memory in the healing process.

The scope of media used by various artists signified the disparate roads they came from to reach I remember 1948. A Flash animation by Fadi, of Nazareth, gave the viewer a subtle invitation to "think" while the animation was loading. His use of the tedium of waiting, so often encountered with computer-based work, projected Fadi’s political stance into the conceptual. With the mesmerising blinking of the word "Think"–a rare act in a consumer-based society–Fadi gently asked us to question our assumptions.

The mixed media wall work of Fatima Killeen used segments of corrugated iron from the walls of refugee housing in Palestinian camps. At its centre, a perfected plaster key contrasted with the rusted and misshapen iron. The immediacy of these materials created a tension between time and distance, as if prompting the viewer to anticipate and wait for the key to become a useful/used object instead of one of hope.

Poetry glazed onto canvas by Wadee Al-Zaidi ushered in the importance of the written word and the textural. Well-known poet Nizar Al-Kabani’s poem, Please forgive us was an affirmation of solidarity and the empathetic experience of pain. Soraya Asmar’s installation of fluoro drawings mapped out a journey accentuated with boots, houses and more keys. This symbolism merged with narratives which flowed along the highly visual and sensitized road of alienation. Asmar’s installation comprised of images constructed by a hand-manipulated thin wire glowing under black light. The visual text was accompanied by a soundscape of hooves, personal histories and traditional songs. The darkened room, in which erupting images shimmered in the dark, ushered in a dreamscape of memory and yearning.

Other pieces also told stories of alienation and displacement and, like Indigenous artist Gordon Bennett's Watch Tower piece in the Isle of Refuge exhibition at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery, they offered hope. Here kinship might help avert a future that, left unchecked, will continue to erase the histories of a people’s dispossession and of the confiscation of their homes.

I Remember 1948, Performance Space, May 15-June 7

Mireille Astore is a visual artist and writer completing a PhD at the University of Western Sydney.

RealTime issue #56 Aug-Sept 2003 pg. web

© Mireille Astore; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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