By Lisa Kaaki
By Lisa Kaaki
September 21, 2011
Two Arab artists, Yto Barrada and Khaled Jarrar, are making a noticeable entrance at the FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain), the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, which will take place in Paris from Oct. 19 to 23, 2011.
The Galerie Polaris will show the works of Barrada and Jarrar. Barrada was born in France from Moroccan parents and currently lives and works in Tangier while Jarrar is a Palestinian artist who lives in Ramallah. They both share the same approach regarding their native country. This dual vision — Ramallah-Tangier, Morocco-Palestine — reveals their way of seeing the world.
After spending her youth in Morocco, Barrada left to study political science at the Sorbonne. While researching ways that Palestinians and Israelis negotiate roadblocks in the West Bank, she found herself taking more photographs than notes. She realized that her pictures captured people’s spirit and their political struggle, so she decided to shift her field of study. Consequently, she attended the International Center of Photography in New York to pursue a career as a photographer.
Jarrar, like Barrada, discovered and studied photography at a later stage. He entered the world of photography after completing his studies in interior design. He is presenting two videos at the FIAC, including his famous Journey 110, about a tunnel that goes from the village of Old Beit Hanina on the West Bank to an area, also called Beit Hanina, which Israel has annexed as part of its Jerusalem municipality.
This passageway was first used in early 2004 when Israel built a barrier between the two Beit Haninas. Jarrar spent six hours capturing the 12 minute-long clip. The Israelis have now sealed the passage, but it has been estimated that up to 150 people a day used the tunnel when it was open. The film shows people’s legs sinking up to the knee in sewage. Wearing plastic bags on their feet, they plod along the 110-meter dark tunnel, crossing from the Israel-occupied West Bank into East Jerusalem.
“I take inspiration from the people. Contemporary art goes deep into concepts… you make your research… you meet people and document until you understand the situation. The creation is at the end, after you go through the process. The process is really important,” explains Jarrar.
The second video features a man walking through the streets of Ramallah in a scuba-diving suit. The scene is more than tragic-comic; it is utterly absurd since the man will not find a single drop of water.
Jarrar is also presenting an installation, “State of Palestine,” in which he suggests that the city of Ramallah issues a “green card” that guarantees its citizens, a happy and prosperous life in Palestine. He has created an official looking stamp that bears the slogan “State of Palestine,” which he uses to stamp the passports of non-Palestinian visitors to Ramallah where he lives and works. The posters, desk, stamp and everything remind the viewer that the passport people dream about is the key to a new life on another continent.
For Jarrar, an artist is like a critic. Therefore, in his artwork, he explores and criticizes politics. He also sees art as a form of resistance, a creative and artistic form of activism against Israeli occupation.
In a similar fashion, Barrada casts a critical glance at life in Tangier. In this African city, so close to Spain, many dream of a better future in Europe. In “A Life Full of Holes: The Strait Project,” Barrada takes pictures of people living in a place, Tangier, but dreaming of another. Her suggestive photographs show people sleeping in public places as well as faces with a painful expression of loss while their eyes are staring at some invisible spot in the distance. The whole series is about immobility and stagnation, and Tangier is perceived as a city consumed by the desire to escape.
“I try to expose the metonymic character of the Strait through a series of images that reveal the tension, which relentlessly animates the streets of my home town between its allegorical nature and immediate, harsh reality,” writes Barrada.
This year has been prosperous for Barrada who has been named “The Artist of the Year 2011” by the Deutsche Bank. Besides her artistic activities, Barrada has also co-founded the Cinematheque de Tanger, North Africa’s first cinema cultural center.
Both Barrada and Jarrar have added to their work a touch of that spirit and that uniqueness found within their heart and soul. Most of all, we can appreciate through their films and photographs, the keen eye that enabled them to find an affinity between concept and the human form and to create as well, an unforgettable emotional resonance.