How does one make a film from within the advancing rot of occupation and its ceaseless, collective catastrophe? How can such a hegemonic background be dealt with—what possibilities might move in the spectrum between the fixed poles of utter denial and direct resistance? “For a Free Palestine,” an online program of works by Palestinian women assembled by Daniella Shreir for Another Screen (the programming arm of the feminist journal Another Gaze), is an attempt at some answers. Those answers variously flicker through these works from disparate times, localities, and sensibilities.
Basma Alsharif’s exhibition here centers around A Philistine (2019), a novella written by the artist that tracks a train journey down the historic Haifa–Beirut–Tripoli line that moves backwards through history at each stop. In the middle of the main gallery, a public reading space offers visitors the opportunity to situate themselves within this narrative of transience. A Philistine includes historic images of pre-1948 Palestine taken from the Library of Congress; these are also displayed on the walls surrounding the miniature library. Alsharif, herself a member of the Palestinian diaspora, has intervened in these photographs, adding Baldessarian black and white circles to block out facial features and places, effectively rendering these highly detailed images siteless.
«J’ai habité au Caire, au Liban, en Jordanie, à Paris, à Los Angeles et actuellement je réside à Berlin. Ma pratique correspond à ma façon d’être en tant que palestinienne : la conscience d’une oppression permanente, et la nécessité d’évoluer ailleurs. D’ailleurs, c’est une expérience assez universelle et profondément humaine, qui se rattache à de nombreuses histoires du présent et du passé. Dans mon travail, l’idée de se connecter à d’autres endroits et d’autres narrations est essentielle », poursuit Basma al-Sharif, qui a initialement une formation de photographe.
Basma Alsharif, born in Kuwait and raised in France and U.S., is based in Cairo at present, and her exhibition presents the ways in which she comes to terms with her
status as a member of the Palestinian diaspora. The title of one of her installations, Trompe l’Oeil, which transfers the artist’s living room in California to SALT Galata’s first floor, explicitly speaks for the whole exhibition with its allusions to the construction of reality. The work, composed of furniture pieces, wall murals and a video, provides the viewer with glimpses of the artist’s daily life activities, as well as the historical context with regards to her diasporic existence as a Palestinian living abroad. While the video presents the artist engaged in her daily life—cooking, caressing her partner, working on archival images—the murals depicting her living room feature details, through which the viewer is encouraged to confront the colonial past of the Middle East, embodied in three photographs hung on the wall and taken from the archive of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), a crucial figure in the history of West’s interference in the region. The introductory text of the exhibition specifically draws attention to Alsharif’s use of these images without permission, a detail echoing the artist’s search for a narrative outside the officially acknowledged accounts of the events that led to the dispersion of Palestinians around the world.
A Philistine’s time-tripping, border-dissolving narrative follows the route of colonial-era train lines that have been lost to conflict. Often playful and humorous, at other times mystical and troubling, the book’s representation of the Palestinian experience of displacement seems to alternate between an absence of hope—the inevitability of more violence and injustice—and a knowingly naive belief in better days to come. This emotional and political ambiguity both recognizes and resists the Palestinian tragedy while also refusing to be confined by it. It’s an approach that looks for contradiction and complexity in people and their situations.