power does not defeat memory
1 February - 13 April 2019
The cactus (sabr) means ‘persistence’, connoting Arabic steadfastness on Palestinian land. It grows with patience and blossoms with grace, and even when burned to the ground, it always springs back to life. With its thorny surface and soft interior, the cactus also carries the duality of protection and violence, inside and outside. Today, the sight of cacti in the Israeli landscape holds the memory of history – of what were once Palestinian villages where the plant served for Arabic peasants to designate territorial borders.
In the exhibition Harb recovers otherwise forgotten moments of Palestine’s past from oblivion, reintroducing them as collages of symbolic imagery and architectural shapes shoved in the face of the present. Cuts from old photographs of shadowy grasslands, villages, water, mountains, steady olive branches and enduring cacti are pieced together with geometrical areas in earthy tones, broken by blocks of crimson, orange and azure. Harb cuts reality apart only to gather the fragments in the formation of a new whole, exploring the experience and memory of being in place and of being displaced. Place and space are seen in the present while invoking a past of dwelling – a sense of belonging, which roots in a time before Israel.
Since the movement of the collage emerged under artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early 20thcentury, the medium has worked to create the connection between artistic and everyday experience, generating a shock effect through the disruption of traditional aesthetic pleasure. Positioned in the tradition of the collage, Harb makes what has been come together with the now to form a new reality in his work where the context of each element is irrupted. By assembling historical material of Palestine’s past, including photographs, negatives and slides, the exhibition does not only cast light on the present through the past and vice versa, but creates images from a construction of the historical material itself.
The cut-outs in Harb’s collages and the new constellations they form enable us to delve into history, take out parts of it, and lift it to another level independent of time and space where the power of memory rules. Like the cactus, bearer of memory, geographical and imaginative indicator of past and present in the Israeli landscape today, the exhibition persistently reshapes the land of Palestine beyond politics, history and boundaries between cultures.