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.


In this exposition I engage with the writing of feminist film theorist Laura U. Marks, whose book The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (2000) helped me articulate my intuitive artistic process in the political terms of interculturalism. Her research navigates between the materiality of cinema (video, moving image, film) and the working conditions of diasporic artists of colour. The Skin of the Film illuminates the complex challenges minority film-makers face in producing experimental and politically situated artworks in Western contexts. This exposition is thus concerned with a particular subjectivity lived by people like myself, whom Talal Asad (2003) refers to as ‘the West’s Other in the West’. Rather than engage in arguments on whether our work as artists of colour in Europe and the North Americas is affected by Eurocentric systems of power, Marks views institutionalised racism as foundational for addressing the complexities of intercultural cinema.

Drawing largely on the writing of Edward Said, the section ‘Book Immersion’ details my textual research on Palestine. And Rosi Braidotti’s systemic attack in The Post Human (2013) on the hypocrisies of humanist philosophy – at the intersections of anti-capitalist, queer, anti-racist and environmental theory– grounded my own relation to posthumanism as a subversive lens of power.

My eventual encounter with the research of black posthumanist scholars evoked the absence and marginalisation of Other voices in the largely white, female world of posthumanism. Such writers often focus on gendered aspects of posthuman debates while ignoring the racialised dimensions of these debates (a problem Braidotti does not fall into). Alexander G. Weheliye’s, Fred Moten’s, and J. Griffith Rollefson’s writings on music, technology, and the often-unacknowledged contributions of the African diaspora in the West further helped me contextualise the sensual, non-textual, and resistant aspirations of my artwork and of Afrofuturism. The work of avant-garde jazz musician Sun Ra first led me to Afrofuturist scholarship. Before this encounter, my investigations had existed in a zone between postcolonial and posthuman scholarship – a sphere of overlapping yet uncomfortable problematics.

‘Palestinian Land Loss Map’ courtesy of Jewish Voice for Peace



How can the posthuman and the postcolonial be addressed simultaneously when the ‘reduction’ of certain humans to ‘animals’ is a primary tool of oppression? In my opinion, the question itself points to a complex rhetoric that must be radically rethought. From my perspective, neither insult nor oppression lies in calling a human an animal. The hurt lies in systems that routinely subject both humans and animals to cruel conditions, forced labour, or destruction of habitat, and justify doing so because of a perceived inferiority. 


Sun Ra’s outer-space persona and performances gave practical insight and example to this research through art, which expanded Donna Haraway’s (1991) nature-culture perspective with a refreshing creative outlook. Occasionally beforehand but frequently in retrospect, the work of these artists and scholars illuminated my artistic choices concerning the absent subjects of Palestinian Wildlife Series: the Palestinian humans whose disappearing context forms the conceptual background of this project.


Together these artists and scholars provided cues to the research question that guided the making of this work and thus this exposition: how to make artwork that is poetic and political without being didactic.


In reference to the above research question, it has been reasonably asked of me why I have felt the need to separate art and didacticism. To be clear, I am in no way opposed to didacticism in art as a general rule, nor do I believe that poetry and didacticism are mutually exclusive. This research question is a singular one, curious about alternative forms of artistic response within politically overdetermined contexts. As a diasporic artist working relatively unconventionally, it has felt important to investigate how to retain the political nature of my subject matter without using my art as a news or information platform (news of which any given part of my audience might already have). This question also relates to broader questions in my research, on ideas of ethnicity and self-representation, which I explore in greater detail in the sections on participatory spectatorship and Afrofuturism. 


The method at the core of this research is my own, conducted in and through the making of original artworks.


The feedback I received when I shared these early experiments in artistic research settings pointed to a need to contextualise my images. Other people did not understand what they were seeing in the same way I did (I critically examine this need for ‘understanding’ over the course of this exposition). Unfortunately, I was quite naturally fascinated by the images with nothing added to them at all. This began a series of awkward attempts to guide the viewer toward what I was seeing. Initially I was opposed to the use of text on top of the images; nevertheless, I experimented with this action over several years, feeling I should ‘explain’ where I was coming from. It is thus not without some degree of embarrassment that I share various stages of these experiments in the pages that follow. 


The set of questions below were asked throughout the making of Palestinian Wildlife Series, creating a cycle that (when written in a linear way) looks something like this: 


The production of




2. MOVING IMAGES WITH TEXTS (sparse, ambiguous, literal texts)


3. SILENT WORDLESS MOVING IMAGES (framed through texts and ambiguous titles)


4. MOVING IMAGES WITH TEXTS (didactic, text-driven, narrative titles and voice-overs) 


5. SILENT WORDLESS MOVING IMAGES (framed by poetic, conceptualising intertitles)



In this sequence, it seems that some steps are so similar they might render others unnecessary. However, the task of this artistic research and its haphazard methodology is to analyse these practical stages. In doing so, and by sharing the analysis within this exposition, my research then employs its ‘failures’ to inform and position its content. Drawing upon a cycle envisioned by artistic researchers Hazel Smith and Roger T. Dean (2009), the ‘iterative cyclic web’ refers to research conducted through the shaping of an artwork, in which a process is set up and repeated several times. As the authors demonstrated, reflecting on my choices took place in an interdependent loop: I created, I read, I re-visited, I read, I created again. Between ‘process and goal-driven’ actions, the long-term process/outcome of Palestinian Wildlife Series took place.

next page: Opening credits