Wednesday, December 15, 2004
exile and memory
from "where we come from"
At times the subtext of events and images from Palestine to San Francisco to Berlin helps illumine an artwork, its inspiration and possibly its meaning. Emily Jacir's recent project "Where We Come From" is concerned with the ideas of memory and exile. As a Palestinian-American, Emily is able to travel in a comparatively free manner across and through the Palestinian-Israeli borderlands using her US passport as a sort of get out of jail free card. With this ability Emily was able to create an art project in which she asked exiled Palestinians: “If I could do anything for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?” Many of the requests would be considered simple, almost banal, if they were not impossible for the exiles to fulfill: “Go to my mother’s grave in Jerusalem on her birthday and put flowers and pray.” “Drink the water in my parents’ village.” Emily journeyed with US passport and cameras in hand in an attempt to grant these requests and record the journey. The finished piece is a collection of memories and documentation that seems to feel much like the exiles own experience. As viewers we are priveleged to enter into Emily's process yet in the end humbled by our inability to do anything.
38"x38" oil on linen 2004
My painting Zoo Station is also concerned with the experience of Palestinian exile and memory and seems relevant to the dialogue and controversy brewing around Emily's work. I post it as a fellow artist in a gesture of support for Emily in her struggles with Wichita State University concerning the upcoming exhibition of "Where We Come From" at the Ulrich Museum.
Zoo Station began with my observation of dual protests across Montgomery Street in the financial district of San Francisco. I was visually taken with a protester on the Palestinian side of the street who seemed to carrry the air of a figure from Daumier or even Manet's "Liberty Leading the People". A kind of quiet heroism surrounded her. Her presence entered into the painting "Zoo Station". As is often the case in my work, the setting changed as the painting developed. Over a series of months this Palestinian woman ended up in Berlin. Reading Richard Bernstein's piece
in the New York Times adds another layer to the experience of this work.