Tuesday 25 June 2019

Demolished lives: art created from Palestinian ruins

Artist Bisan Abu-Eisheh tells of his exhibition created from the ruins of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem

Poignant: Artist Bisan Abu-Eisheh
Poignant: Artist Bisan Abu-Eisheh

Sophie Gorman

When a house is demolished, the small everyday objects that are left behind in the rubble can speak about the lives that were lived there. So discovered artist Bisan Abu-Eisheh when he started visiting demolition sites in the Palestinian sector of Jerusalem. The house may have been wiped out, but the footprint of lives determinedly lived on.

"This came out of an examination of how much we have lost in my country," he says. "The project started as a school project in 2008, when I was still a student in Palestine, and I started to research the idea of disappearance and how destruction can be used to create something else.

"I didn't know what would emerge, I just started interviewing people who had lost their houses. I met up with lawyers, human rights institutions, trying to gather general information.

"Then one day I was filming and liked the shape of something left behind in the rubble. I took it home with me and instantly developed an obsession with these found objects."

These now form the core of his exhibition at the EVA International 2014 (www.eva.ie). It runs from April 12 in venues around Limerick.

This is the 36th annual Limerick art exhibition and this year it is entitled 'AGITATIONISM' and features works by 56 Irish and international artists, selected from over 2,000 proposals by artists in 96 countries.

Bisan will be exhibiting in the prestigious Hunt Museum. It has already been shown in Istanbul and Reine.

Says Bisan: "I would go to different demolished sites and talk to the people who had lived there and then take something back which they had left behind – with their knowledge of course. Well, most of the time.

"But I had information such as the date of destruction and details about who had lived there, the number of people displaced. It became quite forensic."

Did he have issues about taking these possessions, any ethical rumblings?

"Not really, the people who I did manage to contact were happy to have the things that they had left behind out there, so that their cause was being highlighted, the destruction they had endured made public. I wasn't taking things people wanted."

"This is all connected with the Palestinian people who are living in Jerusalem. This is not about houses that are being demolished by missiles in Gaza or by tanks in the West Bank.

''These are houses that have been demolished systematically according to a plan in order to reduce the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

"Some people are given notice before their houses are demolished but many of them aren't and they are just able to get out with what they can carry," Bisan says.

"And the inhumanity is furthered by the fact that after they demolish your house, it is your responsibility to clean up. So I have just been taking the leftovers.

"My intention was very clear when I started working on this project. There is no single detail in my work about who is demolishing these houses, or even why they are demolishing these houses, no images of tanks. The question I am asking is simply why does someone have to lose their home?"

"The response I find from everyone, regardless of where they are from, is sadness.

"The objects are the kind of thing that you have in your own house, domestic things, when you see a fork or something to do with a child this takes you to your own house and makes you sad for what is happening to other people. There is a layer behind the work that people connect with, this sense of loss of living."

Bisan now lives between London and Jerusalem and this relatively recent bi-location has affected his view of his work.

"For a very long time, I have been carrying this stamp of identification of being Palestinian everywhere I go. It was unconscious but everything seemed to be about Palestine. It's not something I am ashamed of, but my experience of living in London has meant that I have started to universalise my subjects and confront the notions of injustice and discrimination, migration problems in Europe.

'I think my experience in London is making me understand my responsibilities more, both as Palestinian artist, but also as a human being. I am becoming an artist rather than simply a Palestinian artist."

Bisan mainly works in video art, installation and performances.

"I was confused about the notion of performance because I didn't like the thought of a live performance. But then I realised when I was filming myself in my videos. And I developed a live performance in Jerusalem where I was making fake IDs for people.

"I had a desk and people would queue up and I would make new details for them and laminate the ID cards. I did it in the V&A museum in London. Maybe I should have done it in Limerick too."

Brand new identities created in minutes, something many an Irishman would leap at.

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