Traces and Revelations: Identity, home and diaspora in Palestinian art – in pictures

Two Palestinian artists explore identity, home and diaspora through their own life experiences in Gaza.

The Oriental Museum in Durham showcases two young pioneering artists from Palestine whose works explore issues of identity, home, diaspora and the boundaries imposed by conflict. Through their paintings, Hazem Harb and Mohammed Joha highlight and respond to life in Gaza.

Mohammed Joha, '#2', 2013, from the "In X Out" Series, acrylic on paper, 100 x 70cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Mohammed Joha, ‘#2’, 2013, from the “In X Out” Series, acrylic on paper, 100 x 70cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

The Oriental Museum at Durham University, United Kingdom, launched “Traces and Revelations” on 4 April 2014. The exhibition, running until 5 October 2014, features the work of two internationally renowned Palestinian artists, Hazem Harb and Mohammed Joha.

Harb and Joha uncover both the inhumanity and the humanity inherent in war by expressing their emotional responses to their own histories in the conflict zone of Gaza.

In the exhibition catalogue, Michaela Crimmin, Co-director of Culture+Conflict, lecturer and research associate at the Royal College of Art and independent curator, defines the artists’ visual accounts as “personal, visceral, vivid”.

The exhibition’s curator Aser El Saqqa of Arts Canteen, London, said in the press release:

The range of work in “Traces and Revelations” is an impressive one, it harks back to each artist’s earlier work and past lives. For both Harb and Joha, “Traces and Revelations” opens up an imaginary, parallel space in which to consider ideas of place, identity and belonging.

Hazem Harb, '#5', 2010, from the "Invisibility" Series, mixed media on collage on canvas, 200 x 160cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Hazem Harb, ‘#5’, 2010, from the “Invisibility” Series, mixed media on collage on canvas, 200 x 160cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

The face of anonymity

Dubai- and Rome-based Hazem Harb (b. 1980, Gaza) is exhibiting works from his “Invisibility” series of paintings, in which he uses mixed media – including newspaper collage referencing media interference and the power of words. Through an interchangeable dualistic emphasis on colour, Harb communicates the duplicitous nature of his emotional experience of home. Solitary human heads without torsos inhabit deserted or ruined landscapes in dark and muted shades, ranging from grey to green to black, such as in Untitled.

Hazem Harb, 'Untitled', from the "Invisibility" series (detail). Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Hazem Harb, ‘Untitled’, from the “Invisibility” series (detail). Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

In other works, Harb also makes use of vibrant and vivacious colours, expressing a more energetic atmosphere. Nevertheless, a sense of loss pervades his oeuvre, and his characteristic unidentifiable entities or subjects are ever present throughout his work.

Hazem Harb, '#6', 2010, from the "Invisibility" Series, mixed media on collage on canvas, 108 x 90 cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Hazem Harb, ‘#6’, 2010, from the “Invisibility” Series, mixed media on collage on canvas, 108 x 90cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

In Invisibility #6, the silhouette of a person bathed in strong colours wears a white face mask. The missing identities in Harb’s work reflect the artist’s transformation from an insider living in Gaza to an outsider who observes from a distance. The mask hence embodies the concept of anonymity, as Sarah Zakzouk writes in Reorient.

Hazem Harb, '#6', 2010, from the "Invisibility" Series, mixed media on collage on canvas, 108 x 90cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Hazem Harb, ‘#6’, 2010, from the “Invisibility” Series, mixed media on collage on canvas, 108 x 90cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Mohammed Joha, '#4', 2013, from "In X Out" Series, acrylic on paper, 100 x 70cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Mohammed Joha, ‘#4’, 2013, from “In X Out” Series, acrylic on paper, 100 x 70cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Remembering home

Italy-based Mohammed Joha (b. 1978, Gaza) incorporates an all-encompassing sense of nostalgia in his works. In his “In X Out” series, Joha focuses on the dialogue between house and home, and the role of memory therein. Using mixed media and warm colours, Joha’s paintings seem to exude a more playful atmosphere, but closer inspection reveals darker undertones.

Mohammed Joha, '#1', 2013, from "In X Out" Series, acrylic on paper, 100 x 70 cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Mohammed Joha, ‘#1’, 2013, from “In X Out” Series, acrylic on paper, 100 x 70 cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

In #1 from the “In X Out” series, a girl – or perhaps a doll – is hanging upside down, her pigtails dangling over what looks like a pile of luggage or furniture. Throughout Joha’s works, there is a childhood presence in the form of a girl/doll, standing amidst the chaos of what was once home.

Joha plays with the intention of suggesting lingering memories, despite one’s move out of home or out of a house. The dualism and dynamic dichotomy of home and house – a personal versus a material construct – give visual form to an imaginary, intangible life.

Mohammed Joha, "Crime Scene", 2013, (detail) acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100 cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

Mohammed Joha, ‘Crime Scene’, 2013, (detail) acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100 cm. Image courtesy The Oriental Museum.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Palestinian artists, painting, mixed media, collage, art and conflict, art and migration, art and trauma, identity art, memory in art, picture feasts, events in the United Kingdom

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