Date: 2005

AUTHOR: Jack Perseckian

LOCATION: XXIV Sao Paolo Biennial



Khalil Rabah, Downloading Antropofagia

In the contemporary power-centers of the world Palestinians are stereotyped either as terrorists or as refugees. Stereotypes·by definition·present static entities thus denying the dynamics inherent to creativity and art. Perceived as ominous and dangerous on the one hand or as wretched and helpless on the other, Palestinians were de-humanized and excluded from cultural and social frameworks. These images placed them in the margins of "civilized" society. Confronted with these stereotypes and with the myth that Palestine is "a land without a people for a people without a land," Palestinian artists felt compelled to assert their identity. They affirmed their existence·clearly and unequivocally·through the presentation of visual images that reflected a "pure" cultural heritage, based on firmly rooted traditions and a clear political platform. As a result of recent historical events, contemporary Palestinian identity has become an amalgam of that original culture and numerous other cultures to which Palestinians have been, voluntarily and/or forcibly, exposed. A new Palestinian cultural identity is being forged, based on a complex process of one culture feeding of another, involving loss, pain and violation but also the possibility of transformation. These dynamic forces can be sampled in Khalil RabahËs work. RabahËs art challenges accepted norms and the artistic conventions of his predecessors. His work may be situated within the realms of the discourse taking place in the contemporary art scene, but at the same time is a relentless, and to a certain extent, endless investigation of his own cultural identity. Such an investigation was inconceivable for many years and definitely out of line with the collective efforts of the Palestinian people who have been engaged in a struggle for the right to self-determination. In his work, Rabah oscillates between self-discovery and the treatment of the fissure and disparity between realities of the situation in Palestine and the life he aspires for. He tries to envelop and conceal the acuteness of his wounds, sometimes with painstaking meticulousness and sensitivity, and other times with singular mercilessness and violence. Obscuring the surface of the objects heËs working with or even obliterating them (by the use of plaster·"Band-Aid"·and nails) alludes to the internal instability of a person permanently seeking to define his identity and a place to settle in. Womb instills the feeling of incertitude; does that suitcase and chair allude to a state of mobility and wondering? Or are they wounded/paralyzed and useless/impotent? But always on the outer surface a light brown plastic surrogate skin of Band-Aids assures tranquillity and healing. Are that jacket in Asylum which RabahËs father used to wear and the coffee table he used to use reminiscences of shelter, refuge and home? Or are they in a succumbing and vulnerable pose as the arms are pushed back into a defenseless position and that half-naked skeleton of the table is ridiculously kneeling down? Khalil RabahËs work incorporating a dictionary speaks for itself when it defines Philistine as "[inhabitant of ancient Philistia (Palestine)]: a materialistic person; esp: one who is smugly insensitive or indifferent to intellectual or artistic values." 1 I really wonder where this definition came from? I also wonder about its relevance to how were perceived by others and how we perceive ourselves?