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Where we come from

28 Jan, 2024

Emily Jacir is a Palestinian-American artist who, with her work Where We Come From, put together between 2001 and 2003, delved deeply into the narratives of identify and displacement, offering a poignant exploration of the Palestinian experience under Israeli occupation.

Jacir used her American passport to take advantage of the mobility denied to many Palestinians. She asked fellow Palestinians, both within the occupied territories and the diaspora: "If I could do anything for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?" The responses formed the basis of this project, and ranged from the mundane to the profound: visiting a grave, playing football with a child in a village, or simply walking on a beach in Jaffa.

Jacir’s work involved physically crossing boundaries and checkpoints to fulfill these requests. She documented each act through photographs, texts, and videos. The project was as much about the journeys and the obstacles encountered as it was about the fulfillment of the requests. Her work highlighted the restrictions on movement faced by Palestinians and the impact of these limitations on their daily lives and dreams.

A common observation on Jacir's piece is that it transcended traditional art forms, becoming a powerful tool for social and political commentary. Jacir documented her experience, and engaged in acts of service, empathy, and activism. Her work highlighted the human stories behind the headlines and statistics, associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, offering a deeply personal and human perspective on a highly politicized issue.

Upon its exhibition in New York, Where We Come From garnered significant attention and acclaim. It brought insight into the Palestinian experience to a new audience, challenging viewers to confront the realities of life under occupation. The piece was praised for its conceptual depth, emotional impact, and the way it blends art with political activism.
The work, perhaps most profoundly, speaks to a collective yearning for a homeland and the simple, everyday joys and sorrows that are overshadowed by larger political narratives.

The work was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.

Closer to home, both in context and time, Jonathan Kempster, a member of our Online Jury for the SWS and Marŝarto Awards, last year produced a sound walk which highlights interviews he conducted last year, with participants at a protest march in support of Palestine, condemning the ongoing actions of Israel as a genocide. Give it a listen.

You'd be excused to not have noticed it, if you only follow western mainstream media, but the recognition of the latter, that Israel is unleashing a genocide on the Palestinian people, got a major legal boost this week, when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) agreed with South Africa that there is a legal case to be made for Israel being a perpetrator of genocide.

Sadly, the ICJ did not order Israel to immediately halt its military attacks against Gaza, or to lift its state of siege, meaning that whether this ruling has any practical effect remains to be seen. Meanwhile, likely as a tit-for-tat, several western governments halted funding for UNRWA, (deep breath) The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, under a very weak pretext.

In situations and times like this, it's very easy to get bogged down in political grandstanding, more so when you find yourself on the wrong side of history. Dehumanisation becomes a goal, with the crafty hope of garnering public opinion on your side. And, this dark path might still prove successful.

Emily Jacir, over 20 years ago, and others with her, brought the occupation of Palestine back to a human level. More awareness, and more politically engaged art can make this happen.

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softs

Bare feet, as in “walking on one’s softs.” from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English (University of Toronto Press, 1982).

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