You come from a Christian Palestinian and Jewish Tunisian background. How does this diverse heritage inform your art?
My work deals with the history and culture of the Christian Palestinian minority in the Middle East, a community marginalized by the prevailing meta-narratives of both Israelis and Arabs. My installations address these gaps while exploring contemporary art’s role in raising questions about history, nationality, ethnicity, and personal identity. My photographs range from scanned archival images to romantic, nocturnal landscapes and huge scale light-boxes. My videos intermingle documentary, testimonial and experimental filmmaking techniques into poignant yet unresolved narratives. In other words, the works shift from intimate to public, the lighting from meditative to cinematic. The audience can participate in different ways of seeing, and therefore, in different ways of knowing and understanding the complexities of the Middle East today, by seamlessly integrating distinct forms of representation.
What can you tell us about the history of the Christian Palestinian community in Israel?
Although I am a researcher of archives and a historian, I will answer this question as an artist. In 2009 I founded the Christian Palestinian Archive (CPA) project, which is the only archive dedicated to the Christian Palestinian diaspora. The CPA was a turning point in my artistic practice, and it provides the basis for a lot of my installations: it can be one picture, like in the installation of St. George Church (2009), which I have shown recently in the Rose Art Museum in Boston, a series of 15 photographs dressed as a family album, like in the series Scanograms #1 (2010), which I have shown in the KW institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, or a series of 12 images like in the current project, 40 Days (2012), which is showing now at the Mosaic Rooms in London. My shows, or maybe I should say my installations, relates to a certain history and a specific eastern aesthetics, which in many ways tells you about my community, but also (I hope) about your own private identity and culture as a viewer.
How is this history depicted in your art, particularly in your project 40 Days, and how does this relate to your work with the Christian-Palestinian Archive?
Like in most of my installations, 40 Days offers a deeply personal story which relates to a larger historical and social narrative. In this case, it is the death of Ya’qoub, my grandfather, and his memorial service 40 days later. At the same time it is the story of the place where he is buried, the Christian cemetery in Lod, which every few years is being vandalised by other religious groups in Israel. The video starts with images from the archive, which were made to document the destruction of the cemetery. They are evidence of a hate crime. The destruction of the cemetery reflects the situation of the Christians as a minority in the Middle East, and more generally, the human condition of being vulnerable.
There is an overlap between reportage, storytelling, history and artistic interpretation throughout your work, how do you combine these disparate elements?
You put it well. 40 Days is an opportunity to watch how archival materials, video testimonies and religious symbols are melted by an artist to one installation. There is also of course the experience of these materials in the exhibition space.
Do you consider your art polemical?
I consider it as a suggestion of multi layered narrative. It might be perceived as controversial by individuals, but I don’t think about it in these terms when I’m doing a project.
The complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the various identities which are subsumed in this conflict are all part of your work; what role, if any, do you feel art has to play in Israel-Palestine reconciliation?
Maybe we should leave this as a question for the audience.