P21 Gallery in London hosts ‘Jerusalem/Home’, exhibiting the work of six artists from Jerusalem, London, or Fairfax, VA (USA) who ponder the meaning of “home” by looking at displacement, refuge, and the Holy City, through photography, ceramics, and installation. Ends 20 February 2016.
More than a house number and a front door
The word “home” can evoke such strong emotions and memories: security, shelter, love, family… but for six artists, all who have some link to Palestine, “home” is not always where a person lives; unhappily for some, “home” is a far-off place remembered long ago, perhaps the place of ancestors, now off-limits because of conflict, occupation, and displacement.
The old city of Jerusalem under the concept of “home” is the focus of these six international makers: three photographers from Jerusalem, one Palestinian-American digital artist from Fairfax, VA (USA), and two ceramicists from the UK and Italy. Curated by Sara Foryame, “Jerusalem/Home” at P21 Gallery in London aims to “project an image of the entirety of Jerusalem that is truer to its complex mixture of religions, histories and cultures” and uses art as “part of a much wider movement to protect homes inside the Old City” through awareness and education projects such as exhibitions like this one.
Jerusalem from without and within
Entering on the ground level, the gallery straight ahead is sparsely hung with large-print photographs and digital compositions concentrated on one end of the generous open area. The arrangement draws one’s attention towards the glass wall, through which more Jerusalem scenes are visible when looking down into the lower space.
The views of the Old City by Mohamad Abdeen, Abdullah Hawash, and Khaled Salem at first read like glossy magazine shots (think National Geographic or even adverts for Thomson holidays) but it is the little details that I should be looking at, not just the overall image. It is in the corners and edges that one starts to see vivid details about the truth of living in occupied Jerusalem, leaving the viewer mostly with a feeling of being “outside” or “not belonging” and it stings a little to know the Palestinian photographer is a tourist in his own homeland.
Before I looked at the labels, I thought the street photographs all were by one person – but they’re not; by displaying the groups of images with their edges touching, the three photographers become sort of one entity, perhaps as way to offer a triangle of perspectives on the situation, sublime and hopeful at the same moment it is stark and real.
Manal Deeb, the Palestinian-American from Virginia, with her abstract and almost surreal digital compositions, shows a different view of her homeland, soft and dream-like, yet with a sharp longing no less distinct than the three Jerusalem photographers. These riveting images provide an internal, or should I say spiritual, view of Jerusalem, letting the viewer look into the artist’s yearning from without.
Home is both fragile and enduring
On the lower ground floor appears a more intricate curation, with ceramic pieces by Ranjena Gohil and Marcella Mameli-Badi. Also included is a collaborative sound installation by journalist Khaled al-Hammadi and Mameli-Badi, along with a “making of” video to share some of the artists’ thinking behind the ceramics works.
Ranjena Gohil’s frangible letters are convincingly made of paper-thin ceramic material and for an incorrigible postcard writer like myself, deeply imbued with nostalgia, and I wanted to touch them to make sure they were not, in fact, real envelopes. (As my mom used to say when I was a tactile toddler, “Look with your eyes, not your hands!” So, of course, I respectfully did just that!) So without using my hands, 😉 the nearby video offered a highly satisfying demonstration about how these pieces were made as well a little history of the maker. I leaned in again, though, just to be sure they were really ceramic.
Nearing the end of my tour, it is the little pile of baby booties that is the real gut-punch of this exhibition. With a quiet but keen poignancy, Marcella Mameli-Badi’s work, “Broken Journeys” refers to those who are most affected and least likely to survive war or disease, when their families are obliged to flee from their homes with only the shirts on their backs and the shoes on their feet. That image of Alan Kurdi rushes to mind and I just can’t even…
Between the two levels of “Jerusalem/Home“, it might have felt like two very different exhibitions – except for the three photographers’ work which could be seen in both spaces and thus knits the exhibition together as a whole. “Jerusalem/Home“ is thoughtfully curated, engaging, and recommended for those interested in Palestine’s artists, art, and culture. Or even, this show is for those who want a brief yet articulate glimpse into the socio-political issues around Palestine/Jerusalem, the refugee crisis, and the Occupation.
p.s., Don’t forget to have a look into the cafe and little “shop” where visitors can pick up an exhibit guide, related books/literature, or some Palestinian handicrafts – and have a cuppa to give yourself time to absorb the works you’ve just seen.
The artists in “Jerusalem/Home” are:
Curated by Sara Foryame.
More links and information
- Find out more about “Jerusalem/Home” on P21 Gallery website
- Review: “Private View of ‘Jerusalem/Home’ at P21 Gallery” by Maxine Boersma for AboveFold.net – 10 January 2016 – “…haunts with a unique approach”
- Review: “Stepping into the life of displaced refugees” by Jehan Alfarra for Middle East Monitor – 11 January 2016 – “..haunting…powerful…and for curator Sara Foryame, ‘a kind of reflection on the idea of home as well as Jerusalem’
- Press release details on Middle East Monitor: “Exhibition: Jerusalem/Home”
Exhibition details: “Jerusalem/Home” is on at P21 Gallery, 21 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD from 7 January to 20 February 2016. Free admission, step-free access. There is also a lovely little cafe on site, where visitors can have lunch, refreshments, or a snack whilst browsing the small display of books and Palestinian handicrafts for sale.
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Friday 12 – 6pm, Saturday 12 – 4pm, Wednesdays until 8pm