a cultural dialogue between generations of artists and geographical locations? Not so much.
At first it seems politically incorrect, to name a group exhibition not even perfectly Palestinian , “Bridge to Palestine”. It has been quite ambitiously arranged – with Tayseer Barakat’s Ijtiyah Ramallah (The Invasion of Ramallah) , to open the whole exhibition. The painting is bold and outspoken. Even an “outsider” could read the message conveyed. However, the presentation of it, on the very right side of the main entrance behind the uninviting designer-commissioned stainless couch, falsely leaves the audience an impression of the stereotypical snob of the contemporary art sphere, not to mention the entire exhibition is held in a transparent glass artifact. This alone could be quite intimidating for anyone to enter. As viewers slightly tilt their heads to the side, making one first attempt to decipher this preamble, another Barakat work soon becomes visible, a rather abstract piece which seems to be more mild and vulnerable as opposed to the previous work. It is mostly white paint on canvas with minor edges and brinks covered in black, and what appears to be a sneak preview of cherry.
And then there comes the factual commencement of the exhibition. A much more intimate space has been fabricated thanks to the white elephant wall, which forms a concave with the existing walls symmetrically on each side, with the title of the exhibition “Bridge to Palestine” on top of it, black and white, vinyl printed as usual, alluring an inseparable however menacing aura. Surprisingly, the whole alarming atmosphere suddenly evaporates as the works of Laila Shawa on the first wall pop up into one’s vision. From Fashionista Terrorista to Inside Paradise, and to the worth-a-smirk Where Souls Dwell V, which is a literal replica of an AK 47 made of steel, wood, rhinestones, Japanese gold powder, feathers, magnets and resin, and SWAROVSKI CRYSTALS! The expected rigidity and what you would normally encounter in an Palestinian exhibition is completely overturned by this intentional and witty “joke”. The audiences would find the starter quite amusing, which is quite a juxtaposition when it comes to anything remotely related to Palestine per se. The theatrical consequence of the humor does not terminate at Shawa’s works, rather a even more introspective and thoughtful metaphor on the matter, despite being cliché, by Monther Jawabreh. On the wall, a collection of printed figures, covered in a patterned veil, almost unrecognizable whether the figure is in fact a figure or simply a void that leaves the audience to improvise. The images are almost too simple to be appreciated. If you happen to compare Jawabreh’s work and Shawa’s work in this space, you would hardly think that they belong to the same exhibition at all. Nevertheless, the Phantom Series, as Jawabreh himself pointed out, is an attempt of resistance and search for solutions. The figure is foremost a conflict reality amidst geography, ethnic, religion etc., and then a human, not necessarily concrete. Jawabreh, together with Shawa, set the basis of the exhibition with a celebratory tone that inaugurates the existence of Palestine and Palestinians, and subsequently the struggle per se, instead of whining about the harsh situations in the Gaza area or the long existing multiple-cause conflicts.
As you turn the corner where you see the only installation of the exhibition, To Jerusalem by Nasser Soumi, the sense of nostalgia would simply gush out as the elm kite reminiscent representation of sky and earth arises. And Palestine, as is pointed out by the artist himself, “From Beirut to Jerusalem, ‘the flower of cities’ as Fayrouz sings. To Jerusalem, a city hanging between earth and sky”. The kite conjures up the image of the Palestine that the Palestinians are experiencing at first sight whilst conducts, or implies if you want, an ostensibly vague hope of a much improved situation. The consciousness of this longing and struggling is easily carried on by Bashar Alhroub and his 12-piece saga Out of the Frame. The self-alienated, dominated individual, once revived and enlightened, would no longer be refrained in the normal constraints or structures enforced on one characteristic. Out of the Frame is, in a way, consolidate example of a physicological metaphor of the human society system, and how its malfunctional deficits result in an unresolved dilemma of a case, Palestine as such. Followed by Alhroub’s interpretation, the exhibition lures into the anticipate gloomy, almost somber mood, from another mixed media trilogy by Nasser Soumi, Mer, Terre and Ciel This three, almost seamlessly abstract art and expressionism inspired, serie is however destructive and death hinting. No matter what the viewers do to avoid the preset connotation, the monotonous color pattern would by means of everything cause a “chest pain” as the reaction.
Soon enough, as Mohammed Al Hawajri’s Inspired by Russian Wedding, Marc Chagall (1909), Marriage on the Border comes into sight, the silence is broken. The title of the inspiration of the production. However mimic the remake is to the original masterpiece, the artist is definitely in trend with a collection of other artists who are in the mood of standing on other “giants’ shoulders”. And it actually works! For a moment the viewers might be baffled about the abrupt twist of the tenor, they will soon be immersed in the humor and by no means ignore the sorrow behind it. The juxtaposition is quite evident, not only the right to left eye focus point that has been reversed in Al Hawajri’s work, but also the joyous wedding spirit completely crashed and burned by the intervention of the armed soldier in the forefront, not to mention the tint of the painting which has been distorted from a delightful gold to a dim virescence. This stream of melancholy is exemplified by the video installation of Rula Halawani, Phototherapy. The video is a loop of different facial expressions footages, each around 30 seconds to 1 minute, of different people from Palestinian demographics regardless of religion, sex, sexuality etc.. The inspiration of the piece is that many people in Palestine would reject a regular examination by an Israeli doctor. However the artist had to pay this particular visit to one, because she had an ongoing project associated with the doctor. And that was when she felt haunted by the Palestinian martyrs, and then she decided to pursue another mission which finally turns out to be this loop video installation.
The exhibition itself struggles to convey the piece of message that Palestine is not necessarily far away, only a bridge a far. However the semantics of Bridge is quite literal when it comes to an exhibition held in Beirut with a crowd of Palestinian artists, or somehow Palestine related/or not. Apparently an interpretation of a metaphor is hardly sufficient for anyone to comprehend an exhibition that is supposedly dedicated to Palestine, which again is a ginormous topic to cover with 20 or so artworks. Above all, what could be bothering to the audiences is that the curatorial thread of the exhibition, which the exhibition initially started with, seems to be completely absent. Shockingly that theoretically started from the very beginning of the exhibition where Bashar Alhroub’s Out of Frame is. The connotation of Palestine being a place where its people should return to rather than a warlord hotbed was cast sideways. The anger, conflicts, even revenge completely takes over. It is to a point convincing that the anger and emotions as such is always part of a social conflict and thus part of art creations related. Nevertheless it is astoundingly inappropriate to emphasize, unintentionally or not, when the preface, and the will of the curator, of the exhibition is determined in having an answer rather than bringing up another riot. Having said so, the attempt would always be applaudable.
The exhibition would not be categorized into any particular type in the history as it is a clear mixture of such, especially in a region that is emerging and stuck in the turmoil. Nonetheless, the influence of pop art and abstract art, despite being late in terms of chronology, is profound.It is absolutely interesting to see the development and implement of the participating artists in other countries and other exhibitions to fully legitimize the idea that this is an “exhibition” about Palestine instead of a “show” about Palestine.