HERA BÜYÜKTAŞÇIYAN, archival photograph from the work The Recovery of an Early Water, 2014, site-specific installation. Courtesy the artist. 

HERA BÜYÜKTAŞÇIYAN, The Recovery of an Early Water, 2014, site-specific installation. Courtesy the artist. 

The Jerusalem Show VII: Fractures

Israel Palestine

Jerusalem, with the walled Old City as its nucleus, embodies extreme instances of contradiction: religious sanctity and widespread racism; archaeology and cultural erasure; transnational wealth and local poverty; and mass tourism despite military occupation. It is the symbol of quintessential holiness, even while its indigenous inhabitants face an unrelenting campaign of ethnic cleansing. These toxic contradictions give rise to the title of the Jerusalem Show VII, subtitled “Fractures,” curated by Basak Senova at Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art. The exhibition, part of the Qalandiya International art biennial, presented the research and works of over 55 artists and curators, connecting the US, Palestine, Turkey, Norway, Cyprus, Romania, Nigeria, South Korea and many other locations through site-specific installations, screenings, books and performances. The exhibition was split up into “chapters” and scattered across various buildings in the Christian quarter, not far from the New Gate of the Old City.

Turkish artist Hera Büyüktaşçıyan’s work, The Recovery of an Early Water, retraced the route of Hezekiah’s Pool (Birket Hanna el-Batrak in Arabic)—an ancient water well that dates back to the 8th-century BCE—located on three dunams (a unit of measurement from the Ottoman Empire equaling three-quarters of an acre) of property owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. In Büyüktaşçıyan’s work, a synthetic blue sheet, draped over a makeshift balcony and supported by wooden girders installed on the ground, covered the empty lot—a visual reference to the once abundant resource for water. Over the past few decades, the ancient reservoir has become a trash receptacle for local residents. Just two weeks after the opening of “Fractures,” heavy rain and community opposition forced Büyüktaşçıyan’s installation indoors. Neighbors who had previously offered access to their homes behind Jaffa Gate to unravel the artist’s fabric suddenly refused entry: a testament to the atmosphere of bitter tension following recent clashes between Israeli settlers and soldiers and Palestinian youth at the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque. Inside of Nicola Zaphiriades’ Shop, one of the Jerusalem Show’s venues, rough sketches of subterranean conduits, inlets and waterfalls, superimposed on archival photographs of stone buildings, were pinned up and scattered on a mahogany desk. Similarly, Büyüktaşçıyan’s project examines the degradation of a lost lifeline—what ecologist Garrett Hardin calls the “tragedy of the commons”—forcing us to remember Hezekiah’s Pool before it was a health hazard, and how its ownership is contested by the Islamic Waqf, the Coptic Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church.

BENJI BOYADGIAN, The Temporary Ruin (detail), 2014, site-specific installation. Courtesy the artist. 

ZEHRA ŞONYA, Red Clouds, 2014, site-specific installation. Courtesy the artist.

Benji Boyadgian’s delicate paintings depicting the valley of Wadi El Shami, entitled The Temporary Ruin (prelude)(2014), captured the fleeting existence of Palestinian towns under Israeli occupation. Located between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Wadi El Shami—once inhabited by a sheepherder and two Arab-Christian families—is sandwiched between highways and Jewish-only settlements, encapsulating the harsh geography that is carved along ethnic lines in much of Palestine’s occupied territories. Boyadgian’s documentation of crumbling, Ottoman-era qusurs (field houses) convey the meticulous methods used by local architecture studios—such as Riwaq, one of the organizers of the Jerusalem Show—to preserve heritage across the West Bank. But The Temporary Ruin asks a question that transcends architecture: beyond its physical record, what is lost when an entire village gets erased?

Red Clouds (2014), an installation by Cypriot artist Zehra Sonya, comprising white gauze bathed in dim light, accompanied by a sound component, created a metaphysical experience in the cavernous Arab Catholic Scouts building. Archiving personal memories from the city, Sonya channels her own experience of living in Nicosia, a city whose history of segregation between Turkish and Greek Cypriots has emotional resonance with the cutural divide in Jerusalem. In Arabic and English, narrators re-tell Sonya’s stories of bizarre encounters, in a kind of sharing of traumas across languages.

The Jerusalem Show VII also featured a film program, “Shifts and Interruptions” which was curated by Anne Barlow, director of New York-based non-profit Art in General, and included works by Brad Butler and Karen Mirza, Basim Magdy, Luiz Roque, Minouk Lim, Tintin Wulia, and Wura-Natasha Ogunji. Rather than accentuating the social or physical breaks in the city, these films presented an experience of time that was altered, distorted, and non-linear. Magdy’s Crystal Ball stitches together layered and light-leaked footage of seemingly unrelated images—a dinosaur, historic ruins, an amusement park, ceremonial boat, hurricanes and a dog-grooming competition. The intentional hazy quality of the film, made possible by a crack in the Double Super 8 camera lens that Magdy used, heightens the “crystal ball” effect; it also portrays an uncertain future that anticipates change yet is composed of banal, recurring scenes. The soundtrack, a submarine sonar, evokes a sense of haunting anxiety, evocative of the tension that permeates the Palestinian occupied territories.

With the Israeli government continuing its colonization, the numerous works in “Fractures” helped to elucidate features of the ongoing occupation of Palestine—from denied access to environmental resources and the erasure of villages to shared histories of divided cities and the false promise of progress. Over and over again, the artists’ works exposed the hollow claim that Jerusalem is a city of cultural syncretism, as mobility restrictions within the occupied territories made it impossible to see all but a few of the exhibition’s works in a span of 48 hours, the average time allotted to Palestinians to move freely within Israel under official permits.

BASIM MAGDY, Crystal Ball, 2013, HD video: 7 min. Courtesy the artist and Gypsum Gallery, Cairo.