An exhibition with Fazal Sheikh tracing the dispossessions and displacements of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, and their impact on Palestinians, Bedouins, and Israelis
Slought is pleased to announce Erasures, an exhibition of photographs by Fazal Sheikh and related historical documents tracing the dispossessions and displacements of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, and their impact on Palestinians, Bedouins, and Israelis, on display March 22-May 31, 2016. An opening reception for the exhibition will take place on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 from 6:30-8:30pm and will feature a public conversation between Fazal Sheikh and Eduardo Cadava.
The exhibition takes its point of departure from Sheikh's remarkable multi-volume set of photographs on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, The Erasure Trilogy (2015). Divided into three separate volumes—Memory Trace, Desert Bloom, and Independence/Nakba—the photographs seek to explore the legacies of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, which resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel and in the reconfiguration of territorial borders across the region. In conjunction with the exhibition at Slought, elements of these volumes will be simultaneously exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Pace/MacGill Gallery, and Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, the Al-Ma'mal Center for Contemporary Art in East Jerusalem, and the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah. Together, this decentralized network of institutions, each functioning in different arenas and with different mandates, collectively seeks to generate conversation across different sites, contexts, and communities about the politics of dispossession and displacement.
From his first visit to Israel and the West Bank in late 2010, Sheikh claims that he came to believe that any effort to understand the region had to confront this war and its long-term effects on the divided societies of Israel and Palestine. In his words, "[t]he war and its aftermath led to the depopulation of more than 450 Palestinian towns and villages and the flight of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians to neighboring countries, refugee camps, and areas under Israeli military rule. It was, in effect, the dissolution of Palestinian society, and has left a wound that has never healed."
That the wound has never healed means that the violence, trauma, loss, and ruin that were the signature of the war do not only belong to the past. In the end, they cannot even be said to be restricted to any single population or any one side of the conflict. The devastating impact of this tension has touched every generation since. Given what we know of the ongoing history of land confiscation by the State of Israel, for example, Sheikh's images suggest that the catastrophes of 1948 have not ended. This devastation can be read in the ruination wrought upon Palestinians by the violent aftermath of the war, but also in the less frequently discussed displacement of Bedouins in the Negev desert, which is the focus of Sheikh's Desert Bloom. In regard to the latter, Sheikh reveals the historical and contemporary traces of what has been called "The Bedouin Nakba," the moment between the 1948 war and 1953 when the Israeli military relocated nearly 90% of the Bedouins in the Negev. The devastation can also be read more generally in the fact that Palestinians, Bedouins, and Israelis all find themselves in mourning. What they mourn is themselves, but also their ability to relate to the other. In asking us to be attentive to the history that simultaneously divides and binds these populations—because, for him, the history of the one can never be disentangled from the history of the other—Sheikh hopes to lay the groundwork for a potentially transformative empathy.
What is at stake for Sheikh is the possibility of exposing and countering the various processes of erasure that, over the last several decades, have sought to erase both the violence of this history and the acts of erasure themselves. His work hopes to account for the Israeli State's complicity in the dispossession of Palestinians and Bedouins, and in the dispossession of memories without which its history can never be fully told. Bringing these multiple instances of injury together in his photographs, Sheikh also evokes, by a kind of formal analogy, the inability of Israelis, Arab-Israelis, Palestinian refugees, or Bedouins to belong to either a single place, time, or even community. Like the images that would present them, they exist between, as Mahmoud Darwish would put it, "an interior that exits and an exterior that enters." Erasures seeks to recreate the experience of this exile in its viewers. In making these histories of dispossession visible, it hopes to interrupt our historical amnesia, and to transform our understanding of this ongoing conflict.
Fazal Sheikh is an artist whose practice involves photographs, texts, moving images, and oral testimony. Many of his projects are concerned with complex human rights issues and he has a longstanding focus on the rights of displaced and dispossessed populations. For the last twenty-five years or so he has documented and recorded the mass phenomena of the refugee, and the modern history of displaced persons and peoples—in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Somalia, Kenya, Brazil, and beyond.
His work has been exhibited at, among other places, the Tate Modern in London, the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris, the International Center of Photography and the United Nations in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, and the MAPFRE Foundation in Madrid. It has garnered him the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography, the Leica Medal of Excellence, the Henri Cartier-Bresson International Grand Prize, and the Lucie Humanitarian Award. He also has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment of the Arts, and, in 2005, he was named a MacArthur Fellow.
His books include: A Sense of Common Ground (1996), The Victor Weeps (1998), A Camel for the Son (2001), Ramadan Moon (2001), Moksha (2005), Ladli (2007), The Circle (2008), Portraits (2011), and, most recently, The Erasure Trilogy (2015).
The exhibition at Slought consists of selected images from Memory Trace presented in the front gallery, a grid of forty-eight images from the Desert Bloom series presented in the interior gallery, and photographs, historical documents and a video related to the repeated destruction of the Bedouin village al-'Araqīb in the gallery's back alcove.
In conjunction with the exhibition, a small publication, conceived as a portable archive, will be distributed. Prepared in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, it will provide captions and contextual information about the materials featured in the exhibition. The exhibition website also serves as a multi-lingual archive to enable discussion across different countries, languages and economic classes.
An expansive interview between Fazal Sheikh and Shela Sheikh that explores the themes of the Erasure Trilogy is also available.
We would like to thank Jane P. Watkins and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for their generous support.
We also thank Fazal Sheikh, who will be an artist-in-residence at Slought throughout Spring 2016. We are grateful for his wonderful collaborative spirit and for everything he did to make this exhibition possible. All of the institutions presenting his work this spring owe him and his work a very felt debt.
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