Since 2016, the IMA has housed within its walls the collection of the future National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Palestine, a “solidarity collection” of some 400 works made up of donations from artists, brought together at the initiative of Elias Sanbar, writer and former Palestinian ambassador to Unesco, and coordinated by the artist Ernest Pignon Ernest.
In 2023, the Institute has chosen to show the cultural effervescence that Palestine continues to reveal and maintain: a cycle of three exhibitions highlights modern and contemporary Palestinian artists, in a dialogue with their counterparts in Arab world and the international scene. A varied cultural program – concerts, conferences, workshops, cinema, literary encounters – will punctuate this event from June to November.
The two registers of images in this exhibition, taken in the 19th century and today, share a common medium, photography, and a common reality, Palestine. However, everything distinguishes these two sets beyond their “age difference”. They are two modes of seeing , two conceptions of Palestine. Placed in dialogue, these two gazes each show in their own way, the quest of the Palestinians towards the reappropriation, through images, of their own story.
The first look, orientalist, will have serious consequences for decades, making Palestine a Holy Land, frozen in time, prisoner of a past never ended, promised to an infinite quest for an ancient glory, waiting for its “‘legitimate’ saviors, missionaries and settlers, to come back to life. This set brings together around thirty views – landscapes, genre scenes and portraits – printed using the Photochrom process , which made it possible to colorize black and white photographs.
Patented in 1889 by the Swiss Orelle Füssli, this technique consisted in transferring the negative of a photograph onto lithographic stones – up to 14 – whose superposition of transparent inks resulted in an impressive chromatic variety while allowing retouching. The company Photoglob Zurich, which shamelessly drew on the works of 19th century photographers , marketed these lithographs under the PZ label to pilgrims and tourists who came to Palestine. The Photochrom process was supplanted in 1910 by the development of color film.
The second look is that of 14 contemporary Palestinian photographers – Mohamed Abusal, Shady Alassar, Rehaf Al-Batniji, Taysir Batniji, Raed Bawayah, Tanya Habjouqa, Rula Halawani, Maen Hammad, Hazem Harb, Safaa Khatib, Eman Mohammed, Amer Nasser, Raeda Saadeh, Steve Sabella– who deliver “inhabited” images of their land. Based on their intimate experiences, these artists offer embodied and dynamic visions of daily life in Palestine, far from any victimization or heroization. Endowed with black humour, their works try to overcome the yoke of oppression, by addressing a cynical, playful and visionary account of the relationships of domination. Between photojournalism and art, documentary or conceptual photography, they reclaim public space, through creative gesture and bodily performance, as an act of resistance. Through these images, they claim the right to create, to express themselves, to circulate, but also the right to the city, to leisure, to dreams. Through these alternative visual narratives, they create an offbeat and expanded representation of Palestine to address, beyond confinement.
Press release from Institut du monde arabe