Page 54

ESSAY Images - Courtesy of the artists. Writer - Nicola Gray, curator.

The Rock is Still Rolling A look at Creative practices in Palestinian photography

In a 2009 statement about his Self Portrait series,

is actually happy with his burden; it gives meaning,

Tarek Al Ghoussein mentions the Greek myth of

and Camus proposes that “one must imagine

Sisyphus as a metaphor for the perpetual cycles of

Sisyphus happy.”2 Camus is thinking more of the

the Palestinian struggle.1 For lying to the gods and

artist as writer, the creator of fictional worlds in

attempting to cheat death, Sisyphus is condemned

which characters act, but his idea can equally be

to push a heavy rock uphill only to have it fall back

applied to visual artists, the producers of images.

under its own weight to the bottom each time, just The Palestinian diasporic and exilic experience is

keep trying to push it to the top again and again.

strongly tied to a notion of national identity and this

It is an image that can leave us feeling exhausted

sense has become almost more powerful than the

and hopeless, but it is a tempting metaphor to

geo-political reality (or unreality) can ever match.

apply to the apparently endless cycles of problems

For millions of refugees and exiles ‘Palestine’ is a

connected with anything to do with Palestine. In

memory, an unrealised idea long in-the-process-

Albert Camus’ Le mythe de Sisyphe (1942), however,

of-becoming and a potential dream. Tarek Al

it is more the philosophical question of suicide

Ghoussein and Sama Alshaibi are artists working

that he considers. In addressing the existential

with photography who have spent all or most of

without the scarf, suggest the ongoing Palestinian

absurdities of human life, he then declares “that

their lives elsewhere but in whose work ‘Palestine’

presence outside Palestine itself, although often in

even within the limits of nihilism it is possible to

has sometimes become a receptacle for and the

scenes suggestive of isolation and disconnection.

find the means to proceed beyond nihilism.” He

depository of stories of a lost ‘home’ or inaccessible

concludes that suicide is not a legitimate act and

place of origin. Al Ghoussein (born in Kuwait, and

Sama Alshaibi continues to explore identity,

postulates that it can be through the work of the

living in Abu Dhabi) and Alshaibi (born in Iraq,

displacement, war and violence in her videos and

artist that nihilism is negated, a place where we

living in the US) have both hinted in their works at

photographic work, while violence and suffering

can find “a lucid invitation to live and to create, in

the representations in western media images of

visited on the body have also underlined much of

the very midst of the desert.” The work of art can

Arabs as ‘terrorists.’ Al Ghoussein’s ‘self-portraits’

Mona Hatoum’s work, especially her performances

be viewed as an absurd phenomenon (it has no

in a black and white kuffiyeh scarf place him in

in the 1980s. Over my Dead Body, originally

utilitarian function), but Sisyphus, Camus suggests,

locations that have no direct link to this stereotypical

conceived as a billboard in 1988 (soon after the

representation, yet the mere image of the kuffiyeh-

outbreak of the First Intifada in 1987), has overtones

wrapped head is enough. Other ‘self-portraits’,

of an early 20th century revolutionary poster. Yet the

1.“…I was drawn to the apparent similarities between the myth of Sisyphus and what can be characterized as the growing ‘myth’ generated through the Western media that all Palestinians are terrorists and that the Palestinian Intifada, like Sisyphus, seems condemned to an endless cyclical struggle.” (Artist’s statement for the exhibition Mapping, curated by Samar Martha for Art Dubai Projects in 2009).

54 tribe

A camera doesn’t need the working space and time to think that a painting or sculpture would.

as it is within reach of the top, and he must eternally

toy soldier is dwarfed by a defiant image of the artist 2. These quotes are from Camus’ own (translated) preface, in The Myth of Sisyphus, Penguin Books, London, 1955, p. 7.

herself staring it down, a symbolic reversal of the usual power relationship and in inverse proportion to the reality of the balance of military force in the

Tribe 01  

Photography and New Media from the Arab world

Tribe 01  

Photography and New Media from the Arab world