Kamal Boullata, a member of our Board of Advisors, has a book coming out soon called Palestinian Art: From 1850 to the present. There is an interesting review out today in The National (UAE) by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, which includes this anecdote from the book:
In the spring of 2002, Israeli forces staged a major incursion into the West Bank city of Ramallah. Among the many acts of destruction, soldiers in tanks crushed a considerable number of Palestinians’ cars. One of them, a red Volkswagen Beetle, belonged to a friend of the artist Vera Tamari. When Tamari saw the vehicle squashed on the pavement, she thought it looked like a dead bug. So on the occasion of a nearby exhibition entitled Eyewitness, which was mounted in response to the military operation, she took a collection of crushed cars and arranged them in a line on a stretch of asphalt that had been laid down on an abandoned football field, a deliberately absurd evocation of traffic made from a pileup of wreckage on a road leading nowhere.
The opening of the exhibition – and of Tamari’s large-scale, open-air installation – attracted a large and boisterous crowd that stayed until midnight. Then, in the early morning hours, Israeli forces returned. Tamari, who lives in a building facing the football field, watched from her window as a pair of tanks rolled up and stopped in front of her installation. Two heads popped out of the tanks, seemingly bewildered by the spectacle before them. A week later, more tanks arrived. Same story. But this time they didn’t leave. The soldiers dropped back into their tanks and ran over the installation, back and forth, over and over, until it was completely flattened. Then they shelled it. Then they stepped down from their tanks and urinated on it. Brutal art critics, these soldiers. Tamari, who caught the whole thing on video, was thrilled. “I have always been a great admirer of Duchamp,” she said.
The central idea of Boullata’s research for many years is simple and elegant: modern Palestinian art dates back long before 1948, the date used as a starting point by most histories. This idea has, ahem, influenced other writers, but it is widely recognized as Boullata’s contribution to scholarship. Wilson-Goldie says:
its chapters on the 100 years of Palestinian art before 1948 … read at times like letters from a melancholy archaeologist wandering the ruins and relics of a painterly tradition that nearly vanished due to violence.
The reviewer finishes by saying that perhaps there is a generational shift happening in Palestinian contemporary art at the moment:
the youngest generation of Palestinian artists, like their contemporaries elsewhere in the region, often use their work to forcefully challenge some of the very notions around which Boullata’s book … revolves, such as the primacy of national identity, the belief that artistic expression constitutes a national culture and the conviction that linear, narrative histories carry any authority at all. Their works are conditioned not by one conflict but by many, both within and beyond the borders of Israel and Palestine. They are, in a sense, deconstructing ideas about identity, history and heritage as fast, if not faster, than Boullata is writing them.
I like the idea that younger artists are embracing post-national approaches to identity. But I might object to the description of Boullata’s book as a “linear narrative.” What about those “letters from a melancholy archaeologist?”
I guess I’ll just have to wait for my copy to arrive.