Young Palestinian artists push beyond their comfort zones with commissioned works.

The 9th edition of the Young Artist of the Year Award exhibition features videos, sculptures, paintings and sound art by visual artists under the age of 30. Art Radar explores the work of the winner, runner-ups and shortlisted artists.

The Young Artist of the Year 2016 (installation view). Photo: Nat Muller. Image courtesy of YAYA 2016.

The Young Artist of the Year 2016 (installation view). Photo: Nat Muller. Image courtesy of YAYA 2016.

“Pattern Recognition” highlights newly commissioned works from nine artists of Palestinian heritage. The works straddle two themes, the first originating from the concurrent Palestinian Biennial, with “This Sea is Mine”Alongside that is the curatorial theme “Pattern Recognition”, which according to the exhibition’s press release seeks to “explore how strategies of repetition open up avenues for critically rethinking issues of time, place, memory and authenticity”. The exhibition opened on 8 October at Beit Saa, a restored circa 1910 house in the centre of Old Town Ramallah and will conclude on 31 October 2016.

The Young Artist of the Year Award, known as YAYA, saw its inaugural launch in 2000. The event runs on a biennial schedule and is open to Palestinian visual artists between the ages of 22 and 30. YAYA is the brainchild of the A.M. Qattan Foundation, a non-profit organisation whose mission, as noted on the foundation’s website, strives to empower others through culture and education:

The Foundation is an independent institution, working in the knowledge and creativity sectors, using an integrative approach and targeting a variety of social groups, particularly children, teachers and young artists. It seeks to empower free individuals within a dynamic Palestinian and Arab culture, through a long-term, participatory developmental ethos. This is achieved through programmes that foster critical thinking, research, creativity and the production of knowledge, and that aim to provide inspiring models of giving, transparency and excellence.

The award was established in honour of late Palestinian artist Hassan Hourani, whose solo show “One Day, One Night” was exhibited at the United Nations Building in New York City in 2001. In 2003, Hourani had finished only a fraction of the illustrations for a children’s book called Hassan Everywhere, when the artist tragically perished while on holiday. The A.M. Qattan Foundation pulled together materials after the artist’s death and published the book in 2006.

Nat Muller. Image courtesy the curator.

Nat Muller. Image courtesy the curator.

YAYA 2016: the curator

YAYA 2016 is curated by critic and independent curator Nat Muller. As noted on Muller’s website, her interests include “intersections of aesthetics, media and politics; media art and contemporary art in and from the Middle East”. Based in Amsterdam, Muller’s writing has been published in Bidoun, ArtAsiaPacific and Harper’s Bazaar Arabia. She is a regular contributor to Springerin and Metropolis M, is Editorial Correspondent for Ibraaz and has written catalogue and monograph essays for Middle Eastern artists. Recent curatorial projects include “Driven by Storms (Ali’s Boat)” at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai and the Delfina Foundation’s second edition of the Politics of Food Programme.

The award is of particular relevancy and urgency in Palestine, which has seen violence, trauma and fragmentation since the Nakbah, or expulsion of some 60 percent of Palestinian Arab population in 1948, resulting in the modern State of Palestine. Despite the continued strife and uncertainty, YAYA remains a bright light for Palestine’s visual artists and in particular, those who were born after 1994. The value of this prize cannot be underestimated, as the YAYA 2016 Jury stated during the award announcements:

Rarely is a prize so welcomed, anticipated and celebrated as it is here. This is a testimony to the meaning and significance of the Young Artist of the Year Award for Palestinian artists, and its importance for dreams, aspirations and possibilities.

The recent editions of the award comes with a mentorship programme. As Muller told Art Radar, the process beyond YAYA 2016’s curatorial call was one that paired artist with curator to produce newly commissioned works, which stretched beyond the artist’s vision and the borders of Palestine itself:

The artists were invited to respond to a curatorial call that encouraged them to break loose from nostalgia and traditional iconography, but also tread out of the comfort zone of their own practice. YAYA has been, for its past few editions, set up as a mentorship programme, which means that artists and curator embark on a close and intensive journey together to realise the works. The working process is set up in a way that artists are pushed to question the positioning of their projects, and by corollary their practice, within the larger context of Palestinian art, but also that of the international art world.

Inas Halabi, 'Mnemosyne', 2016, video stills. Image courtesy the artist.

Inas Halabi, ‘Mnemosyne’, 2016, video still. Image courtesy the artist.

In the same conversation with Muller, Art Radar asked if there was a particular medium that was utilised more than others in this edition of the award. According to Muller, nearly half of the projects used video, including Inas Halabi’s winning entry Mnemosyne:

Four out of the nine projects are video-based. With a theme that focuses on repetition, patterns and recurrence, the possibilities digital editing technologies offer lend themselves well. However, I would like to stress that these themes were taken up in really interesting ways through sculpture, painting and sound art.

Emerging from the earth: YAYA 2016 winner, runner-ups and shortlisted artists

1. Inas Halabi – winner

Graduating with a BA from the Ceramic and Glass Department at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem (2011) and an MFA from Goldsmiths, University of London (2014), Inas Halabi is the winner of YAYA 2016. Her work examines historical and political narratives surrounding collective memory, the creation of myths, national identity and hierarchy of power through video installations, sculpture and “interventions in printed media”. The artist spends time between Palestine and Switzerland.

Halabi’s award-winning work Mnemosyne examines her family’s nuanced narrations surrounding an event that happened between her grandfather and an Israeli soldier in the 1940s. The well-known event places the present family members as historians in place of subjects, who have since passed on, and examines how the event shaped her family’s reality.

Somar Sallam, 'Disillusioned Construction', 2016, video stills. Image courtesy the artist.

Somar Sallam, ‘Disillusioned Construction’, 2016, video still. Image courtesy the artist.

2. Somar Sallam – second place

Visual artist Somar Sallam was born in Damascus, Syria in 1988. In 2010, she successfully earned her degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Damascus. Sallam’s work has been shown in exhibitions between Algeria and Syria and was granted a solo show at the Ruaa House Gallery in Damascus in 2010. She has participated in festivals, residencies and workshops in Algiers, Beirut and Damascus. Sallam currently works as an illustrator for children’s publications and in 2015 celebrated the first prize award as a contributor for Freelestine at the International Comic Festival in Algeria.

Sallam was awarded second prize for her work Disillusioned Construction, a video project showing aspects of construction and fragmentation. Here, a white, black and red coloured (symbolising day and night) crocheted patchwork blanket is completed, only to be unravelled and destroyed over and over. This piece is based on the artist’s personal experience of displacement and the unravelling felt after a “period of disillusioned stability” as refugees.

Asma Ghanem, 'Homeland Is…', 2016. Notational score for sound performance. Image courtesy the artist.

Asma Ghanem, ‘Homeland Is …’, 2016. Notational score for sound performance. Image courtesy the artist.

3. Asma Ghanem – third place

Asma Ghanem was born in 1991 in Damascus and returned to Palestine with her family several years later in 1993, shortly after the Oslo Accords. She graduated with a BA from the International Academy of Arts, Palestine, and received her MA degree in audio visual arts from France’s ISDAT, Ecole des Beaux Arts de Toulouse. Ghanem has participated in exhibitions, residencies and workshops throughout the world. Her first experimental music album was awarded a production grant from the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture in 2014 and the artist’s photography received a special mention in 2015 at Paris’ the ‘Palest’in & out’ Festival.

Ghanem’s experimental music piece Homeland Is captures the essence of Palestine, beyond the Oslo agreements, which many thought would result in an independent state. Here, the feeling of inertia as well as the rapid-fire sounds of occupation merge into one sound performance.

Noor Abed, 'The Air Was Too Thin to Return the Gaze', 2016, video stills. Image courtesy the artist.

Noor Abed, ‘The Air Was Too Thin to Return the Gaze’, 2016, video still. Image courtesy the artist.

4. Noor Abed – shortlisted

Noor Abed was born in Jerusalem in 1988. Abed graduated with a BA from the International Academy of Arts, Palestine, and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. Following her participation in the summer residency programme at Maine’s Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2014, the artist was accepted into the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (2015-2016) in New York City. Her work has been exhibited throughout the world, including shows at the Mosaic Rooms (London), Al-Hoash Gallery (Jerusalem), Al-Ma’mal Foundation (Jerusalem) and Gaîté Lyrique (Paris). Abed has recently been awarded the March Project Residency and Commission from Sharjah Art Foundation.

Abed’s video-project The Air Was Too Thin to Return the Gaze centres around the sighting of an “unidentified flying creature” in the village of Bir-Nabala in 2015. According to the YAYA 2016 exhibition brochure, the work brings together two disparate disciplines:

The project aims to share part of the ongoing research undertaken by the artist on the local sighting event. The work maps connections between the materiality of the digital image and the field of archaeology as an approach to study parallel realities of the found device and its memory.

Abdallah Awwad, 'The Horizon’s Pathway', 2016, iron, wires, gypsum, fabric and silicon, 250 x 200 cm and 200 x 130 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Abdallah Awwad, ‘The Horizon’s Pathway’, 2016, iron, wires, gypsum, fabric and silicon, 250 x 200 cm and 200 x 130 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

5. Abdallah Awwad – shortlisted 

Born in the West Bank city of Nablus in 1987, Abdallah Awwad successfully earned his BA degree in Contemporary Visual Art from the International Academy of Arts, Palestine in 2012. During his schooling, he was able to spend time as an exchange student in Norway, at the Oslo Academy of the Arts. The artist participated in the Jericho 10,000 Years artists’ workshop and Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center’s Open Studio Residency Programme, and his work was included in the French- German Cultural Centre‘s “Disrupted Intimacies” exhibition in Ramallah. Awwad lives in Ramallah, where he works with animation and children’s publications.

The Horizons Pathways shows a material that is stretched to its very limits, delicate and fragile. Ethereal and haunting, these sculptures “stand witness to the uncertainty of our times”.

Aya Kirresh, 'a concrete ode to history', 2016, freely formed sculptures of various mortar mixtures on the curing table. Photo: Dia Joubeh. Image courtesy the artist.

Aya Kirresh, ‘A Concrete Ode to History’, 2016, freely formed sculptures of various mortar mixtures on the curing table. Photo: Dia Joubeh. Image courtesy the artist.

6. Aya Kirresh – shortlisted

Aya Kirresh graduated with a BSc in Architectural Engineering from Bir Zeit University in Palestine 2013 and successfully earned an MA in Art and Space from Kingston University London in 2014. A practicing architect, her interests, according to her website “are in events of the public realm, amenities, space and interventions, using multi media productions and publications”. In 2015, Kirresh worked with Al-Hoash Gallery for the organisation’s Reviewing Jerusalem art walks. In addition to her work and art practice, the architect currently teaches at Palestine Polytechnic University.

Kirresh’s a concrete ode to history is a look at Palestine’s use of traditional organic materials throughout time, with the eventual arrival of the use of concrete by the State’s oppressors, resulting in the merging of the traditional and the modern.

Majd Masri, 'Haphazard Synchronizations', 2016, acrylic on canvas, prints and collage. Image courtesy the artist.

Majd Masri, ‘Haphazard Synchronizations’, 2016, acrylic on canvas, prints and collage. Image courtesy the artist.

7. Majd Masri – shortlisted

Born in Jerusalem in 1991, Majd Masri earned a BA in Painting and Photography in 2013 from Al-Najah National University. In 2016, her works were shown at “Illustration Art”, an exhibition organised by the Tamer Institute and the French-German Cultural Center, and was a contributor to the Ministry of Culture’s exhibition at the Baladna Cultural Center in Ramallah.

Socio-political motifs post-Nakbah are examined in Masri’s Haphazard Synchronizations series. Using the iconic image of a Palestinian female fighter taken in the 1970s at a refugee camp in Lebanon, Masri employs six styles ranging from Greek iconography to political cartoonist Naji al Ali to flesh out reoccurring themes regarding the feminine in Palestinian art.

Majdal Nateel, 'Dream Is Possible', 2016, sculptural installation, details, gypsum and earth. Image courtesy the artist.

Majdal Nateel, ‘Dream is Possible’, 2016, sculptural installation, details, gypsum and earth. Image courtesy the artist.

8. Majdal Nateel – shortlisted

Majdal Nateel was born in 1987, in Gaza’s Shati Refugee Camp. Nateel graduated with a BFA from Al-Aqsa University in Gaza. She has participated in several group exhibitions worldwide with her 40 Days of My Life project and has had two solo shows, “Salt of Memory” and “The Effect of Light and Glass” in Gaza. Currently, Nateel is teaching assistant in Graphic Design at the Gaza Community Training College.

Her sculpture installation Dream is Possible measures the individual and the collective dreams of Palestinians and refugees. The earth filling each “pillow” represents the importance that one’s homeland has, while the cracking and broken surfaces of the sculptures depict the difficulty of keeping one’s dream of returning alive.

Ruba Salameh, 'يم/Ym/ Yamm/ (open sea)', 2016, video still. Image courtesy the artist.

Ruba Salameh, ‘يم/Ym/ Yamm/ (open sea)’, 2016, video still. Image courtesy the artist.

9. Ruba Salameh – shortlisted 

Born in Nazareth in 1985, Ruba Salameh completed both her BFA and MFA at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. According to the YAYA 2016 exhibition brochure, the artist’s “painting, photography and other mixed media deals with questions of identity, nostalgia and the relationship of the individual within the collective”.

Salameh’s video-project يم/Ym/ Yamm/ (open sea) captures a bus stop at Salah Al-Din Street in East Jerusalem. Here, a torn and faded poster of the sea of Gaza remains as a link to a past where most can only image but can no longer access.

Art for Palestine: hope for the future

Despite Palestine’s past difficulties and the ever tense political climate, there is a hope. According to Mahmoud Abu Hashhash in the exhibition brochure, A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Director of the Culture and Arts Programme, Palestine has a future. One that YAYA and these young, emerging artists will certainly fight to keep alive:

We have a strong belief that vibrant, inspiring and ongoing cultural work will open new windows and doors through which to look towards the future, and keep Palestine, with all the values that it stands for, present in the conscience of the world and in international forums. We also hope that it will attract cultural practitioners from around the world to come and examine Palestinian life with all its challenges but also to experience the inspiring initiatives that are generated to transcend the limitations of such an exceptional reality.

Lisa Pollman


Related Topics: Palestinian artistsidentity artmemoryevents in Palestinehistorical art

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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