Khaled Jarrar’s exhibition and first solo UK show, “Whole in the Wall” in Ayyam Gallery, London is part of the annual Shubbak Festival 2013 – Window on Contemporary Arab Culture. Starting in 2010, Shubbak Festival, “a festival of discovery” brings together the best of young and established artists from the Arab world – writers, educators, musicians, visual artists and more – to provide a brilliant collage of Arab contemporary culture over 15 days in London.

“Whole in the Wall”

Khaled Jarrar is a Palestinian artist who lives and works in Ramallah, Palestine. His work is about his homeland at the same time he tries to redefine some of the realities of the place where he lives:  looking at situations and things such as checkpoints, identity, conflict, nationhood and The Wall.

The visitor to “Whole in the Wall” at Ayyam Gallery, climbs the steps to the 1st floor, and upon opening a heavy wooden door, is confronted by this:

View of 'Whole in the Wall' exhibition at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy Kelise Franclemont.
View of ‘Whole in the Wall’ exhibition at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. Photo credit: Kelise Franclemont.

After a few moments of confusion and uncertainty, one can move along the 2.5 metre high obstruction to find a series of small sculptures made of concrete chipped away from The Wall, repurposed into life-sized models of sports equipment – a football, a pair of football cleats, a pair of table tennis rackets and a waist-high concrete “Buddy Bear”.

The concrete replica of a toy bear with his arms up as if begging for a hug, is a symbol of peace and tolerance. The first exhibition of Buddy Bears was in 2002 at the site of the Berlin Wall, where over 140 bears were shown, one for each of the countries represented in the United Nations. The Palestinian Buddy Bear was included for the first time in the traveling United Buddy Bear exhibition in Jerusalem in 2007 along with 132 others.

Khaled_Jarrar_Buddy_Bear
Khaled Jarrar, ‘Buddy Bear’, 2013, reconstituted concrete from the Apartheid Wall, 140 cm high, edition of 7, in ‘Whole in the Wall’ at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

In his recent series of work, “Upcycle the Wall”, Jarrar tries to create a new purpose for The Wall. He tries to change the perception of a wall originally built to keep people apart but through Jarrar’s efforts, will continue “to empasize its purpose of standing there”. By chipping away bits of the barrier, then mixing these pieces into new concrete sculptures, Jarrar says he is, “working on the functional possibilities [so it] may give us the ability to exceed the problem.”

Khaled Jarrar, 'Football', 2012, reconstituted concrete from the Apartheid Wall, in 'Whole in the Wall', at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.
Khaled Jarrar, ‘Football’, 2012, reconstituted concrete from the Apartheid Wall, in ‘Whole in the Wall’, at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Along with sculptures, Jarrar also creates experimental performances and films in which documentary gives way to wry humour, such as the short film in which Jarrar, on the West Bank side of the wall, plays a game of badminton with Jeremy Hutchison, an artist on the Israeli side. A bit ridiculous but more to the point, The Wall is never really a badminton net and much like the real situation in Israel and the West Bank, the two opponents never get to see each other.

screenshot from 'Badminton', 2012, short film by Khaled Jarrar as seen in 'Whole in the Wall', at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy Kelise Franclemont and Ayyam Gallery
screenshot from ‘BADminton’, 2012, short film by Khaled Jarrar as seen in ‘Whole in the Wall’, at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. Photo credit: Kelise Franclemont.

After looking at the small concrete sculptures, the end of the wall dividing Ayyam Gallery appears and reveals a corridor around the other side.

View of Ayyam Gallery after going around 'The Wall' to the other side. Image courtesy Kelise Franclemont.
View of ‘Whole in the Wall’ at Ayyam Gallery after going around ‘The Wall’ to the other side. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. Photo credit: Kelise Franclemont.

On the left is a collection of images taken by Jarrar through gaps in The Wall, where one can see glimpses of what’s in Israel.

Khaled Jarrar, from the series 'Whole in the Wall', 2013, archival print on cotton paper, 70 cm x 100 cm (edition of 5), in 'Whole in the Wall' at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.
Khaled Jarrar, from the series ‘Whole in the Wall’, 2013, archival print on cotton paper, 70 cm x 100 cm (edition of 5), in ‘Whole in the Wall’ at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

At the end of this corridor a sad little film by Jarrar is displayed. He had recorded the visit of an elderly woman with her daughter – who lives on the other side of the barrier. The two women can barely hear each other, and the only physical contact they have had in many years is to briefly grasp each other’s fingers through a tiny gap.

screenshot from 'Whole in the Wall', 2013, short film as seen in 'Whole in the Wall' at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy Kelise Franclemont and Ayyam Gallery.
screenshot from ‘Whole in the Wall’, 2013, short film as seen in ‘Whole in the Wall’ at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. Photo credit: Kelise Franclemont.

Turning away to face the wall again, the opening one can see when entering the gallery reveals itself as the shape of Palestine, big enough for a person to clamber through. (As tempting as it was, I didn’t try it because the gallery lady was right there.)

Jarrar’s work is about challenging subject matter yet he manages to address the difficulties without being shouty, overly-political or pedantic. In fact, he chooses quite another direction when he takes on something like a 26-foot high wall that separates families and divides communities, with such patience and gentle humour, that his work made me smile, feel a bit sad and then burn with a certain hurry to write this review so others may be tempted to see this exhibition before it is gone from Ayyam Gallery.

‘Whole in the Wall’ is highly recommended –  not only is the work well-presented in the space; it really made me think.

More information

Exhibition details: Khaled Jarrar ‘Whole in the Wall’ runs from 20 June – 3 August 3013 at Ayyam Gallery, 143 New Bond Street, London, W1S 2TP, as part of Shubbak Festival 2013 – Window on Contemporary Arab Culture. Free entry.

Shubbak Festival runs from 22 June – 6 July 2013 in multiple locations in London. Download a  Shubbak festival guide here including schedule and venue listings.

Khaled Jarrar, untitled, 2013, C-print diasec mounting, 140 cm x 210 cm in 'Whole in the Wall' at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.
Khaled Jarrar, untitled, 2013, C-print diasec mounting, 140 cm x 210 cm in ‘Whole in the Wall’ at Ayyam Gallery, London. Image courtesy artist and Ayyam Gallery.

This image is of an olive tree that’s still growing despite being crushed by a 20-ton wall.