What Palestine Brings the World, A Question Answered

Ce Que La Palestine Apporte Au Monde

Anyone visiting Paris from now until Nov. 19 should include the excellent exhibition “Ce Que La Palestine Apporte Au Monde” (What Palestine Brings the World) at the Instituit Du Monde Arabe.

The exhibition, along with related Palestinian programs, afford a look at Palestine, its people, art, culture, concerts, films and presentations through the eyes of Palestinians and others whose events all are organized around the question: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going.”

That universal question was inspired by the title of a Paul Gauguin painting by the same title (1897-1898) while the artist was in Tahiti during a personal crisis that forced him to withdraw from France to the South Pacific. The answer to the question is conveyed by the literary and art works along with photographs on display that challenge the viewer in considering the Palestinian experience by exposing artists’ personal histories and experiences working both in Palestine and in the diaspora.

The works displayed are from the permanent collection of the Palestinian Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The museum inspired by the ‘Musée de l’Exil’ (‘Museum of Exile’) created in South Africa in the 1980s was established in 2015 and is now located at the Institut du Monde Arabe where it is currently housed. Future plans call for a permanent museum to be established in East Jerusalem, the capitol of Palestine for the continually growing collection.

The exhibition is divided into several thematic sections beginning with artworks and moving on to photography. Photography is important in that the Holy Land was one of the original subjects that the earliest photographers recorded while traveling there, utilizing the newly invented process. The resultant photos became immensely popular both as souvenirs as well as entertainment for many who were unable to travel to such exotic destinations in person.

Among the works are a series of contemporary photographs titled “Un Metro au Gaza” by Gazan photographer Mohamed Abusal who envisions the ubiquitous Parisian “M” Metro signs superimposed on images of Gaza and Jerusalem. His tongue-in-cheek concept being that since Gazans are great at tunneling, one day it could be possible to join the two cities by such a system.

Another series, GHO0809 (Gaza House 2008-2009) by Gazan Taysirv Batniji depicts 20 Gazan properties with complete descriptions shown in a typical Parisian real estate office window display of available properties individually suspended in the high-tech stainless steel wire matrix. Each of the destroyed properties lists the usual relevant information describing the property  including how many people inhabited the building. One can only speculate how many of those inhabitants were killed in the building’s destruction.

A striking audio-visual installation “Jerusalem Calling” by Birzeit University photography Professor Rula Halawani who juxtaposed contemporary color photographs of streets in the Old City of Jerusalem at night with projections of 1938-1945 vintage black and white images of Palestinian musicians from the archive of the Palestine Broadcasting Service superimposed on the steel doors of shuttered shops. Arabic music is being played which adds a surreal experience of instilling the musician’s one-time presence in a spirit of perseverance and permanence laying claim to the city in a ghostly fashion.

In one room a literary space is dedicated solely to Mahmoud Darwish where there is a moving  multimedia experience inspired by his poem “In Praise of the High Shadow.” The poem covers the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon where several thousand unarmed defenseless people were killed by Israeli-trained Lebanese Phalange forces.

Another room is dedicated to the Sahab Museum (Cloud Museum) that presents digital works in a virtual Palestinian Museum circumventing the physical confines, limitations and difficulty of creating a physical museum under occupation. Founded by the Cloud Workshop in 1990,  the online museum presents collective works, objects, street art and others in an augmented reality as a collective “cabinet of curiosities” allowing viewers access to the multifaceted collection.

A final room on the fifth-floor houses French activist/writer Jean Genet’s two suitcases and their contents of various manuscripts of his life including chronicling his association with the Palestinian Fedayeen and a 16-year association with the Black Panthers.

In 1982 while in Lebanon with his friend Laila Shahid, the Sabra and Shatila massacre occurred that in turn resulted in his being one of the first to enter the area to witness first-hand the horrific scene. His experience resulted in a powerful funeral eulogy and testimony contained in his “Quatre Heures à Chatila” (Four Hours in Shatila), a seminal work published in 1982 by the Revue d”Etudes Palestiniennes.

Only two weeks before his death in 1986, Genet gave his two suitcases to his attorney, Roland Dumas, who discovered a treasure trove of writings and personal effects on which he had scribbled notes and comments for his book “Prisoner of Love,” posthumously published one month after his death. The museum’s visitors guide duly notes that it is “the most important book ever written by a Western artist about the Palestinians’ struggle.”

In total, the exhibition chronicles the ongoing history, struggle and the perseverance of Palestinians in their ongoing quest to establish a nation state. To that end, the exhibition and related programs present an important opportunity to view, see and hear that struggle from various perspective in the culture and arts to better understand the wide scope of experiences through the medium of a public museum.

(This article has previously appeared in Nuzeink.)

Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and Nuze.ink. He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.

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