Solo exhibition “Castles Built from Sand Will Fall” explores the dissident, critical and therapeutic art practice of Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar.
“Castles Built From Sand Will Fall” is a solo show of Khaled Jarrar’s work, open until 7 January 2017 at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai. Art Radar takes a look at the exhibition and talks to Jarrar about the intersection of the personal and the political in his art practice.
Khaled Jarrar worked as a member of the Palestinian Presidential Guard before studying photography and film in the early 2000s. Over the last ten years, Jarrar has developed a practice that has included creating sculptures of everyday objects made out of reconstituted concrete chipped from the West Bank barrier, documentary film, installation, public art interventions and photography that often explore the psychological and physical realities of living in the shadow of the wall. The restrictions imposed on him and his fellow citizens internationally and at home have become the catalyst and subject of his occasionally satirical artistic output.
The title of the current exhibition at Ayyam Gallery entitled “Castles Built from Sand Will Fall” seeks to highlight the way in which Jarrar’s practice has consistently intervened into the rigidity of nationalisms in acts of artistic disobedience that reveal politically imposed borders to be essentially impermanent. The exhibition’s title, for example, appears engraved onto what looks like a heavy concrete tombstone and is in fact Styrofoam. The exhibition shows a number of new installations such as Khaled’s Ladder (2016) and Finnish Bread (2016).
Khaled’s Ladder and the found object
One of the highlights of the exhibition is a replication of parts of a work originally installed as a public art piece in Juarez, Mexico in 2015. The artist created a ladder from pieces of the US-Mexico separation with the intention of offering a pragmatic and metaphoric way to build bridges between communities. The work was produced in the context of the anti-immigration and racist rhetoric of the campaign of the then US president candidate Donald Trump, whose proposals to build a wall along the US-Mexico border were among the most publicised and controversial of his campaign. With Trump winning the elections, Khaled’s Ladder, as it was christened by local residents, seems all the more important.
Talking to Art Radar about the process of developing the work, Khaled Jarrar explained:
Khaled’s Ladder is a response to the discussions about the need to build bridges and is an act of resistance to the ugly wall. I took a metal piece – what is effectively a “found object” – from the wall between Tijuana and San Diego using my physical strength to remove it (the object is around 6 meter tall and more than 40kg in weight). The wall even goes under the sea, dividing two people in a very aggressive way.
Talking about the work, Jarrar commented to Art Radar:
This metal object is used to separate people from each other and I wanted change the functional use of it in order to make something positive: I made a ladder to bring people together. I was interested in how the same object can be used to do different things. Rather than building walls and wasting all this metal, we could be using it to build services and useful facilities such as hospitals, schools, bridges or more of useful things for humanity.
At Ayyam Gallery the work consists of a copy of the ladder (or bridge) and a short video documentary. Asked about the relationship between the original public intervention and the video on display, Jarrar commented:
CultureRunners [a US based public art foundation] organized a workshop for me at the New Mexico State University, where I was able to talk about the idea of objects and how I use found objects that represent power state, racism and oppression and make them more poetic, raising questions about these sculptures and the spaces where they come from. It was about changing the functional use of the found object in order to create the ladder that is installed now as a permanent sculpture in a public space in front of the wall in Juarez. For me the work is also “the process” and this includes the ladder, the workshop, the people who helped me in this, the journey and the video work too.
Another work that recontextualises an object associated with suffering is Jarrar’s recent work Finnish Rye Bread (2016). It is an installation of bronze loaves of bread that are models of real bread originally used in an intervention in Finland in 2015, which dealt with the social and class borders the artist experienced in the city of Helsinki while on a visit. Talking to Art Radar about the genesis of the project, Jarrar explained:
In Helsinki I was shocked to see endless queues of homeless people standing in lines of 2 to 3 km in the freezing cold weather in order to receive some bread to survive. These homeless people were invisible in many parts of the city, especially the luxurious sectors. When I saw this scene, I decided to bring their story to the other parts of the city, with the intention of raising awareness of the existing poverty around us by making the different social classes visible. I ended up building a wall of 386 pieces of bread – the same kind of bread that the homeless people are queuing up for. I build it in the heart of the city, right in the city center. There I cut the bread from the wall and gave it to the people around us and sent the remaining bread to the homeless shelter to avoid any waste.
Passport control and parody
In July 2014, Jarrar was due to attend the opening of the group show “Here and Elsewhere” at the New Museum in New York, but was stopped by Israeli authorities at the crossing into Jordan and told he would not permitted to travel for “security reasons”. He later took part in a panel discussion at the Museum via Skype.
It is his experience as a minority citizen and artist, expected to perform spectacular feats at international symposia and exhibitions while subjected to increasingly rigid migration controls, that motivates Jarrar to construct performances and actions that visibilise and ridicule the policing of borders. In 2011 Jarrar coordinated an action in which he replicated the conditions of state border passport control at a bus stop in Ramallah, offering passers-by his own custom-designed stamp that reads “State of Palestine” in English and Arabic.
The action was part of ongoing project entitled Live and Work – a series of works that protest the refusal of countries to recognise Palestine as a formal nation. The message of the work is a deeply serious critique of the daily strain on Palestinians as they bear the weight of a violent state apparatus that does not recognise them as equal citizens. Yet the tactics are comic: with his stamp and performance, Jarrar embodies an entire passport office – the artist as a one-man-state. The use of parody is important to the success of his work and his need to move beyond the pain of the situation towards critique and happiness.
Art and trauma, the personal and the political
Khaled Jarrar has often contested the use of the term ‘political’ in reference to his work. He sees himself as an artist working through essentially personal issues. Jarrar is open about how the various traumatic experiences accumulated during his time serving as a member of President Yasser Arafat’s security guard motivated him to turn to art as a means of working through pain, visibilise oppression and critique it.
Talking to Art Radar about the relationship between his art practice and trauma, Khaled Jarrar commented:
I came to art from the military system where I got trained and served as soldier. In order to live the imagined identity of the soldier you need to be strong with big passion to your nation so it was so easy to brain wash me with the illusion of nationalism, resulting in the creation of new boundaries for my new identity as a soldier. When I intervene in socio-political zones I find my strength using my past to illuminate my horizons. Art provokes particular memory structures and helps me ease the tensions between the identity conflict and overcome trauma, this is why I like irony, and humorous forms of cultural and artistic intervention in conflict zones.
Jarrar’s work requires a kind of criticism that is capable of alternative frames of understanding the role of the personal in political artworks without recourse to pathologising the artist or dismissing the artwork as fetish. A useful tool in this respect is Media Farzin’s article The Imaginary Elsewhere and How Not To Think About Diasporic Art, in which the critic recovers the creative and critical force of the “fetish”, commenting:
Of course, “fetishism” is usually taken to be pejorative. And yet a fetish is also one of the most powerful examples of a social object, a material occasion for an individual to relate to the values of a collective Imaginary in a deeply personal way. Historian William Pietz gives an inventory of such occasions: “a flag, monument, or landmark; a talisman, medicine-bundle, or sacramental object; an earring, tattoo, or cockade; a city, village, or nation; a shoe, lock of hair, or phallus; a Giacometti sculpture or Duchamp’s Large Glass.” Our diaspora artist is in good company. Her fetish objects use personal disavowals as tools to create figures of collective history out of chaos and contingency. While there is some sleight of hand in what she does, in the best tradition of the historic fetish object — the Portuguese word feitiçio meant “magical practice” or “witchcraft” — there is also a great deal of personal truth.
The exhibition “Castles Made of Sand Will Fall” includes just such a set of “fetish objects”: the bronze bread, the metal ladder, the reconstituted fragment of a wall. It is in this way that Jarrar’s works “use personal disavowals as tools to create figures of collective history out of chaos and contingency”.
- Palestine’s Young Artist of the Year Award 2016: Pattern Recognition – October 2016 – Young Palestinian artists push beyond their comfort zones with commissioned works
- “Europa”: Palestinian artist Emily Jacir at Whitechapel Gallery in London – December 2015 – The survey show “Emily Jacir: Europa” piercingly penetrates visitors’ conscience by recounting histories of migration, resistance and exchange.
- All art is political: “Immateriality in Residue” at Experimenter Kolkata – in pictures – December 2015 – “Immateriality in Residue” at Kolkata-based Experimenter Gallery features Indian artists Prabhakar Pachpute and Sanchayan Ghosh, Bangladeshi artist Ayesha Sultana and French-Indian artist Gyan Panchal
- Music, memory and body: Jumana Manna at Chisenhale Gallery in London – December 2015 – Chisenhale Gallery holds Jumana Manna’s first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom
- “Putting me in jail would be their biggest mistake” – Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar talks to Art Radar – July 2013 – Khaled Jarrar may have knocked down Palestine’s Separation Wall and rebuilt it in London but really, he insists, his art is more personal than political
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