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53rd Venice Biennale: Salwa Mikdadi - Palestine PDF Drucken

Voices from Palestine

Palestine % Venice: Collateral Event at the 53rd Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia

ImageVenice, June 2009. For the first time Palestine is presenting artists and their work at the biggest and most lively show of contemporary art worldwide, the Venice Biennale. Palestinian curator and art historian Salwa Mikdadi initiated the show Palestine % Venice. It is one of the socalled "collateral events", because the bylaws of the Biennale interdict that unacknowledged states maintain national pavillions. Mikdadi  chose seven artists from the occupied Palestinian territories. A prolific exhibition close to the people's tense situation, rich in voices and full of political suspense can be seen on the lagoon-island Giudecca until the 30th of September. Irmgard Berner spoke with Mrs. Mikdadi about her curatorial strategy, the Biennale as a milestone for the Palestinian art-scene and artists, and art as a global catalyst.

ImageJawad Al Malhi, "House no. 197, 2007-2009", Shufhad, refugee camp. (photo: ibe| ©nurart)

Mrs. Mikdadi, this first exhibition at the Biennale is basically due to your personal initiative. How did you work it out?

Salwa Mikdadi.: There is no government or institution behind this exhibition, it’s a collaborative effort, which to me was very important: to collect with the local Italian institutions. So when I had this idea I always wanted  to make this partnership with a local artist or director or curator. I met Vittorio Urbani, the director of the Venetian art-association Nuova Icona, and he became the commissioner of this exhibition.

I wrote a concept, applied for the Biennale-committee, and they accepted the project. Prior to that I made sure we got funding from Palestinian sources – that’s the only funding I’d accept for this exhibition.

With Rana Sadi we found a wonderful person as our patron, and this way the exhibition became a truly Palestinian, symbolic independent representation of Palestinian artists.

What would the funding have been like from other parts?

M.: Art foundation of the EU, the institutions set are currently funding most of the art-projects in Palestine and much of the rest of the region, with the exception of the Emirates and the Gulfe. I would not have done the exhibit, I would not.

What are the sources of Palestinian fundings?

M.: Palestinian individuals, Khalid Shoman Foundation, which is a foundation of art in Jordan, Soha Shoman is the director, she was a wonderful supporter. Welfare associations and private firms, actually consolidated Palestinian contractors, who founded Hadid Habach-project.

There are many good Palestinian artists. What were your criteria of selection?

M.: Many great! My basic criteria wasn’t a theme running through a concept that I went around looking for someone who kind of slot into it, but rather looking at good conceptual work. I knew the artists, and I also wanted to make sure that the artists have spent or lived or grew up in Palestine. And so there was a lesser selection from the diaspora.


What about Emily Jacir? She received the Biennale Golden Lion already in 2007, and her project “stazione 2008-2009” – she wanted to put all names of the Venice vaporetto-stations of line 1 in Arabic letters – couldn’t be implemented, the community of Venice had cancelled it, without telling the reason why. What’s left in the exhibition now is a small flyer.

ImageImageM.: Jacir’s work is of interest! Some people might think, she is an exception, but she has been spending a great deal of time teaching and working in Palestine lately. The proposal that she has submitted is very important.

So my research took over three years, to interview and meet artists and see what their art-practice is, what’s new and - maybe not criteria - but I have had in mind to include young emerging artists, possibly mid-career, and internationally well-known.

So I think we have all three here.

Artists like Mona Hatoum – she is out of context?

M.: Well, Mona Hatoum, I respect her work very much. But this is an exhibition of what is happening now in Palestine. And because it’s the first exhibition, it has to be a representation of what is happening in the art now in among the Palestinian rather than just internationally of interest to others. That was important.

The national idea, the idea of identity, is it important? Also for your artists?

M.: I didn’t discuss identity with the artists, I don’t think it’s a big issue with them, they all know where they are coming from!

If there is an issue, I haven’t discovered it among the Palestinians. There might have been art in the past as more symbolic, and related to cultural significance or iconography, but that is not what I was looking for. And the Palestine artists have passed a stage a long time ago and they are free to be artists whatever they want without being slotted. This I feel, too, is in the past!

Talking to artists here at the Biennale, many say that they had problems being asked for representing a nation, because many of them don’t even live in their own countries anymore. What is this idea of the nations, if it is not an issue for artists?


M.: Is no more! I mean, it is not only a matter of globalization, it’s a matter also of people, of politics. To some extent maybe globalization has influenced it, of course, but I think the artists have reached a point where we can’t even call it an issue. I don’t think there was an issue before. There might have been an arch about symbolism resistance, art of the Intifada. I, however, wasn’t looking for that. If I had to do another exhibit, it could be about some Semitic idea, it would include, would relate somehow to conditions of the universal, because issues are so universal now, and done by other artists, from other countries like Italians or Germans, with Palestinians working in a Palestinian exhibition.

ImageWith all contradictions, art is a universal language?

M.: Exactly, I agree with you. This is the first Palestinian representation in Venice, so it was important that all the Palestinian artists are Palestinian. The next one – if I had to do another one – there might be one Palestinian, but the subject definitely related to issues prominent in the daily life of Palestinians.

So, could you call this show a voice of Palestine?

M.: I agree with that, because if you notice, when you have seen the exhibition, there are hardly any images of humans, physically, in photographs or any of that.

It’s the voices you can hear at the “Ramallah Syndrome”, and not just voices – these are debates taking place about important issues, that you seldom hear about in the international political arena! What is wonderful about the “Ramallah Syndrome”-Project are these two artists: Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, her Italian husband, who had worked on this project together, and created a conversation looking at the condition of Ramallah as a de facto capital for future Palestinian nation, and in a sense looking at a newer colonialists' project imposed on a city with a very abnormal situation trying to normalize life there.

 ImageRamallah is surrounded by settlements - in a way it’s a political strategy, like: Forget about Jerusalem, or: Here is the capital, oh, people are happy! See, there was this discussion and there were several opposing views. Some were for Ramallah as it is, some not, but it is covering up reality: you really have to wake up and do something about it.

People are forgetting the other like: what about Jerusalem, what about the other cities and towns around. Most of this population are moving to Ramallah because there is no invest-businesses. Of course, the diplomatic international communities move their offices to Ramallah.

So, basically the population, the Palestinian population is slowly being evicted of their homes, or homes demolished in Jerusalem, they have no work because businesses have been moved to Ramallah. These are all very important topics that are affecting the life of people, even that of those not living in Ramallah.

The two artists, Hilal and Petti, created a conversation that took place in several of these cities over a period of eight months, taped that and created this sound with two sound artists, Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Basel Abbas, as a background – a beautiful installation!

And when you go into the dark room and are focusing on that conversation, you are not going to be distracted by mass-media images.

ImageOr if you are going to see Jawad Al Malhi’s work, this huge panorama of the refugee camp Shufhad, where he was born and lives: There is not a single image with human beings, he managed to take it without any. So it s a muted image concentrating on the architectural spaces of the camp and: None of these works here taste the same.

So when you said VOICES - yes.

Do you think that being here at the Biennale changes a bit of the conscience for the arts in Palestine? Or do you think it is already changing anyways?

M.: As I said, it is changing anyways – but definitely it is a big milestone for Palestinians! Just noticing how many Palestinians are on the streets of Venice itself is a significant response to this initiative and we were very happy with the outcome yesterday. Our ambassador, the Palestinian ambassador in Belgium as well as Luisa Morgantini and the city of Venice opened the exhibition and we were really excited and happy with this.

The exhibition has been duplicated, and is opening this week in Palestine?

M.: We wanted the two Palestinians under occupation to share this moment: Six projects in six art-institutions, each showing some now, some later in the summer. So, there is another sort of curatorial strategy for this project, along with the partnership with the Italians, funding money from Palestinian sources, and this duplication of the exhibition.

ImageDo you believe art is a catalyzer? Also in the Middle-East region?

M.: It forces people to think in alternative ways, because it is new and different, and a vibrant vision of looking. Particularly for people who are so stressed with daily life and just trying to survive under occupation so they are not able to even think – and this part of the work of Shadi HabibAllah, who talks about these mechanicals, are just procreation, having children, and all that, and nobody is stopping, you see how the movement is so fast, to contemplate on it. The artist provides a space for contemplation!

And this is what is so wonderful about this exhibition: I felt it does give the space!

And it seems that there is still enough space in Palestine – although there is such tense life there – people, artists can still play with things?

M.: Yes, why not? Like our late poet Mahmud Darwisch said: We are allowed to be who we are to have fun, write poetry, write songs, write humor, why does everything has to be in response to Israel? And that’s what these artists are doing actually, I think.

Keyword Israel, and one political question at the end: Do you think a “2-state-solution” is the solution for the region?

M.: That’s a personal answer: I believe one state solution is the best solution.

And what should it look like? Where should the borders be?

M.: Historical Palestine, shared by all.

Thank you for the talk.

Homepage: Venice % Palestine

Venice Biennale, collateral events, la Giudecca, until September 30th 2009

Imagephotos in the article: ibe| ©nurart; courtesy Salwa Mikdadi, Palestinian museum

photos below:

Taysir Batniji Atelier (22.06.2006 – 07.06.2009), 2005, Farbfotografie, 150 x 100 cm, © Taysir Batniji, Courtesy of La B.A.N.K., Paris.

Emily Jacir stazione, 2008-2009, Proposal for a Vaporetto-Station, Digitalfotografie, © Emily Jacir, Courtesy of Emily Jacir

Khalil Rabah A Geography: 50 Villages (3rd Riwaq Biennale), 2009 Installation mit Postkarten, © Riwaq, Palestine, 2009, Courtesy of Riwaq Photo Archive

Shadi Habib Allah Ok, hit, hit but don’t run, 2009, 4-Kanal-Video-Animation, © Shadi Habib Allah, Courtesy of Shadi Habib Allah

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