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The curiosity for doing this research comes from a personal love for books and how texts can affect our life and shape our thinking. My love for reading literature, especially German and Czech, has opened my eyes on how we can read mindfully by trying to be more aware of the current moment and sometimes by repeating the same texts over and over again. Some books like “The unbearable lightness of being” by Millan Kundera, “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse, and “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka have had the most influence on me as an artist to reflect on texts through writing and drawing. All three novels carry a lot of deep meanings within and have made me think more deeply about life. For example, Siddhartha’s novel made me think about my journey in this life and what I am looking for about the definition of home and belonging. Additionally, the novel brings to mind thoughts of uncertainty in life about religions. While “The unbearable lightness of being” made me so curious about heaviness and lightness that a human being may have and how this can affect every step we take, it also taught me that some political ideas that a person may have can be the reason to send them away from their own homeland. “The Metamorphosis” also made me feel compassionate about the main character and feel a little bit sorry about how crucial life can be, which is something you can feel while reading anything written by Kafka who suffered from depression. All these aspects that are in these novels along with staying at home during the pandemic played a huge rule in shifting my ideas while making artwork. I found myself unconsciously drawing houses and mixing them with Kafka’s sketches and writing.
The focus in the project conducted for PPS was on Arab literature, which I wasn’t deeply aware of, but through this research I discovered the beauty of it in greater ways. Nevertheless, working as a visual artist in a cultural institution that emphasizes the bettering of society, literature, and the arts for years, has helped me form a vision for the importance of art in society. This vision affected my research by spreading awareness on how to deal with a group of people and design sessions based on reading, discussions, and a combination of other art forms.
The concept of reading as a collective action is the main idea that this research based the theoretical and critical framework on. It started with the aim of creating a space for participants to discuss important topics through the texts that are used to better understand what people feel when listening or reading a text and how discussing these topics will allow a greater amount of reflection.
The research focused on the Arabic literature and highlighted on two concepts which are “Home and Belonging”. A diversity of components were added to the sessions to better understand the concepts of home and belonging. Such components include reading collectively, using mindfulness exercises, discussions, and reflections through other art forms.
The design of social practices through an art-based methodology is important for understanding the concept of social space and how it relates to artistic research. The aim here is to show that individuals can construct an understanding of home and belonging through social engagement and in turn construct meaning to that understanding based upon surroundings and the provided texts. By time it was easier to relate and connect all the artistic means that are used during the sessions to public space and the research ended up with experimenting alot of ideas for a collective reading sessions.
For this project, participants were asked in each session to read the texts collectively. The next step was then to discuss and express their thoughts through the art forms of writing and drawing. Being mindful throughout the process allowed for a deeper discussion and a transfer of all feelings onto paper afterwards. Being able to share such experiences leads the participants to grow a deep individual imagination that can be relayed into art as they transform their thoughts on paper.
The collective reading sessions in this project and the reflection on these texts from the participants through public discussions about political issues in the city and about personal stories, makes the public discourse in the project strong and shows that space and society can’t be separated. It shows the power of creating a space of social engagement through art and the power of having the space of freedom for expression and the power of speech when it becomes collectively taken. Pascal Gielen in his text Performing the Common City spoke about bringing commons- in the city. The idea that “the city” belongs to everyone allows the artists to navigate a very fluid domain of movement and change over time, and this is what is being done through this research by using texts as tactics to speak and to put our mark to revive the common life in the city.
The texts that were used in the project are taken from Arab literature by focusing on the struggles of Palestinians and what has happened over the past years in Palestine. A series of famous Palestinian cities, Haifa, Gaza and Akka that were lost due to the forceful eviction of their inhabitants in 1948 shows an empowering story of a life of struggles and longing for return.
The stories reflect on the concepts of home and belonging by highlighting on the Palestinians suffering and struggles for years in order to gain their simplest rights in their own cities and the right to return is highlighted by the experiences of the characters and can be related to not only Palestinians or Arabs, but also to anyone who has lived through a similar situation. For this reason, three novels that were used in the project are written by the famous Palestinian revolutionary and novelist Ghassan Kanafani.
As continuation of the research and as a part of Darat al Funun’s Lab program, I dicided to look into texts in the project through archives and I chose Al- Arabi magazine archive which is a very famous magazine in the arab world since the fifties.
For 3 months, I worked on a research based workshop with a group of participants of writers, researchers, and people interested in literature to explore the archive of Al-Arabi magazine to choose texts from it for a series of public collective reading sessions that included looking into the texts, in-depth discussions, and sharing individual and collective reflections.
The idea was to highlight on many concepts that the society needs to talk about publicly and in this case it was also (home and belonging) while relying on different kinds of texts that were written in Al- Arabi magazine since its first publication in 1958. For this purpose, I used the collection of the magazine that my grandfather, Saeed Al-Nasser, had.
Special attention was given to specific editions of the magazine that represent the years during which The Arab world had political and economic setbacks, such years include: The years of 1967 (The disaster) and the year of 1973 (The october war).
The project ended with an open studio that invites audiences into the results of the workshop and the reading sessions, showcasing reflections, research and reading materials, as well as a selection of the magazine’s physical archive covering the years under study in the workshop.