by Sonal ShahJul 09, 2021
Within the multifaceted nature of the spaces of representation, the invariable mediation between reality and fiction has challenged the veracity of the political interest to expand the spectrum of perspectives. The modernist affiliation to the museums and the maps forced displacement of the tangible reality to a slew of metaphors open to be reappropriated. The discursive nature of the construction of the maps, far from the ground reality, have had a hierarchical approach towards borders and boundaries. The works by the artist Wafa Hourani, whether it is the map populated with stamps or a futuristic take on the artist’s home-nation Palestine, evoke the field of action rather than a performance to bring a finality of order.
After a brief stint as a wedding photographer when Hourani was still in his teens, he went to Tunisia to study experimental cinema. However, his dream of capturing reality onto celluloid was soon shattered when he lost his brother and nephew, who were actors in his movie, to the sea of Jaffa at the shoot of its last scene. Even if the personal loss refrained him from making movies, the creative zeal found expression in the art practice — a fine blend of architecture, graphic design, filmmaking, photography and sculpture.
In an interview with STIR, he mentioned, “Largely, Palestine is either represented in the form of a utopian dream or as a dystopian catastrophe, but I wanted to create an ‘atmospheric artwork’.” Playing with reality and fiction to see history as a fecund site of enacting power are the three works, Qalandia 2047, Qalandia 2067 and Qalandia 2087. Each of three installations oversees the key events in the history of Palestine after 100 years: Palestinian exodus, Arab-Israeli 6 Day War and first Resistance Movement. Like the moving images, the three installations run to narrate the history of the years yet to come, anticipating what the future holds for the people of Qalandia.
To recreate the complexity of the politics that determine the life of the refugees staying in Qalandia onto the installation, Hourani adds a breath of life to the installations with the sound and filmstrips. Emphasising the “power of illusion”, with the mirror in the installations, for the artist, enables humankind to see a better future. Qalandia as an assemblage of buildings spiked with inhabitants narrates the reality of violence and endurance, yet does not eschew a change, a shift to a better world. Even if the minuscule cities of the installations Qalandia 2047, Qalandia 2067 are designed to underscore the fragile state of refugee camps and the vulnerability of its people, the future in Qalandia 2087 holds the beacon of hope with the disappearance of both checkpoint and wall.
The contingent multiplicities of mapping the centre of the earth – Jerusalem – get a visual representation in the form of multimedia works: The Stamp that Remains and The Dimension of Distance. The installation, The Stamp that Remains reassesses the idea of home with the stamps dating from the 1960s. The postal stamp as the symbol of identity markers is a display of both desires to belong and resistance to the encroachment. Jerusalem as the holy city is home to Abrahamic religions as well as the civilisations that found roots in the city. Giving an artistic garb to these sensibilities, The Stamp That Remains populates the map of Jerusalem with the stamps along with a light silver wire to draw the walls of the Old City and silk threads carve the garden of Al Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, the Armenian Museum and Damascus Gate. The conspicuous presence of colourful silks and threads in the works, Hourani declares, could be traced back to “his fascination with the material that he found with his mother who made traditional Palestinian dresses”.
Tracing the history of the holy city to the times when the natural water bodies defined the borders, not the politically motivated art of cartography, is the multimedia work The Dimension of Distance. The metal wires and colourful silk threads sculpt the boundaries that separate the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Palestine, and Israel from each other. To add, the absence of beaches and Galilee indicates “as if reality is war and nature is fiction.” The disappearance and reappearance of the new lands encapsulate what Hourani says, “The art of crafting maps (to) criticise the political image of maps and voice human suffering.”
A recipient of the Delfina Foundation’s Riwaq Biennale Resident Artist Award, Hourani, during his stay in London as part of the residency, played with the idea to defy the notions of time as a patriarchal construct with another work of the future The Big Ben of 2068 - a celebration of 100 years of the feminism movement. Dismantling the imposing authority of Big Ben, an extension of the Empire, The Big Ben of 2068 is no longer obliged to the colonial perception of time and space. Hourani states, “In the year 2068, the speed of the earth’s rotation fastens enough to reduce the hours of the days to 11 instead of 24”. The inaccuracy of Big Ben causes much trouble to English who have been accustomed to witness it as an embodiment of accuracy. Hourani swaps the tall edifice with the pregnant woman made out of metal wire to flip the conventional ideas of time: masculine notion paves the way for the feminine understanding, circular movement replaces the linear progression, the vantage point of multiformity dilutes the unidimensional attitude.
It is from the contested sites of history, Hourani mines the pieces of reality to negotiate and reconfigure the meaning of geography, often rendered a priori under the lens of imperialism. The indictment served as an invocation to the fantastical world is a disruption of reality and fiction. Not less frequently, the elements of fantasy, on the brink of hyperbole, falter to strike a chord with the viewers. Hourani, succinctly, avoids such a possibility.
A fan of Jazz, Hourani tunes his works to the melody that carries resonance beyond the shores of a particular location to assert the “collective language of loss and suffering” knows no boundaries.