A friend recently said to me that our first impulse when starting artistic projects is usually the ‘right’ one, yet it often takes much time and experimentation to end up at the place we first started. This exposition chronicles a process of experimentation within an artwork that began with political undertones, became overtly didactic, and then moved back again. Palestinian Wildlife Series is a set of moving images created from footage shot directly from a television set in Palestine in 2011. It is the first formal project within the context of my doctoral research and is part of larger research in which I investigate embodied and postcolonial aspects of memory through a series of artistic works in moving image.
The source material for these projects comes largely from a personal archive of video footage shot between 2007 and 2012 in Egypt and, in this case, Palestine. My interest in focusing on the topic through lives unrecognised in official histories began with my own life. The footage I’d accrued consisted mainly of experiments investigating kinaesthetic aspects of moving image. (I majored in postmodern dance and video as an undergraduate and, after a decade of focusing on live performance art and experimental theatre, I returned to work behind the camera.) Drawing on my skills as a movement artist seemed important in this transition.
Historical precedents of this transition include the work of performance artists Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Valie Export, Joan Jonas, Janice Tanaka, and Mona Hatoum, as well as artistic researcher Annette Arlander, all of whom picked up cameras to create hybrid works of performance, cinema, and installation.
My own return to moving image in 2007 coincided with my relocation from my home in New York City to my parents’ home in Cairo, Egypt. (After years living abroad, they had also returned). Born and raised in the States, my everyday experiences of anti-Arab racism were foundational even to my most abstract artworks. Ten years after 11 September 2001, the Egyptian revolution put questions I had about my performing body at a breaking point. My embodied, racialised, and female figure carried sets of codes that I became interested in disrupting in the years that followed.
Struggles stemming from the interdisciplinary nature of the project were coupled with location politics. I was making this set of moving images in and for one context, but I was sharing them with and developing them for another. The differences between Cairo, Egypt, and Helsinki, Finland, during the revolutionary movements of the time were profound. Like its subject matter, the artistic research of Palestinian Wildlife Series required challenging head-on notions of universality and interculturalism. A third challenge of this project drew on the problematics of the first two challenges: the embodied/digital and critical languages I was learning, as well as my tools for doing so – postcolonial studies, critical ethnic studies – were largely foreign to my research context.
Palestinian Wildlife Series is my first artistic project in which my (or any human) body is completely unimaged in the video itself. This exposition concerns the many questions, experiments, and trials I faced in making this work. It relates to the vulnerable act of creating artwork as research in an advanced artistic research setting, at the very moment I struggled to understand and articulate things once left to my intuition.
The project took shape across several continents, over a number of years. I shot the footage in Palestine in August 2011. During the following two years, a widespread political uprising continued in Cairo. Between June 2012 and June 2014 I lived between Cairo and Helsinki. I concluded the project in 2015, in the intercultural context of New York City, researching amid a stream of racially motivated murders, police brutality, civic action en masse, and yet another massacre of Gaza in the summer of 2014. It was in New York that I encountered Afrofuturism, a distinctly black posthumanism, and found a way to merge the above experiences, practices, and theories, culminating the cycle of research I describe in the pages to come.