World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


The Representation of Art and Politics in Palestine (038) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: MON 19, 5.00-7.00 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Rice University (USA)/ New York University (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Ala Alazzeh / Rania Jawad

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: This panel examines how contemporary Palestinian artistic and political practices are reproduced and represented in Palestine and the Arab world in moments of political volatility. While both journalistic and academic analyses often focus on what and whom artistic products and political movements represent, less attention is directed toward the representations of these manifestations themselves. The focus on how meanings are ascribed to artistic and political practices and expressions allows us to analyze the conditions that not only contribute to their circulation and reception, but that also enable or inhibit further production. Focusing on the context of the two recent intifadas, the collapse of politically viable solutions, internal Palestinian political instability, and the ongoing violence and continuing colonization of Palestine, this panel aims to investigate the complex entanglement of art and politics in the contemporary Palestinian landscape. The increasingly technologically mediated world in which we live, that enables the production, reproduction, and proliferation of hegemonic discourse, contributes to how art represents politics and how politics represents art. By analyzing how Palestinian political strategies and artistic expressions are framed, we also aim to suggest that alternate configurations of the dynamic nature between art and politics are possible. Papers in this panel will address literary texts about the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Palestinian martyr posters, resistance music of the first and second intifadas, representations of theatrical practices in Palestine, and the limits of representation in Palestinian films of the second intifada.

Chair & Discussant: Samera Esmeir (University of California Berkeley)

Paper presenter: Ala Alazzeh (Rice University), “The Palestinian hero-subject in times of “war” and “peace””
Literary texts have been a key in producing, circulating, and reproducing Palestinian national narratives. Alongside poetry, which has canonical status in the Arab cultural context, the novel has played a formative role in narrating nations in the Arab world through a post-colonial lens. For Palestinians, novel-writing has historicized national imaginaries by constructing national subjects. Though there is no claim of one distinct Palestinian novelistic genre, the heroic anti-colonial subject has high visibility. In this paper, I compare the hero-subject in Palestinian novels of two periods, the Oslo agreement “peace era” and the “violence” of the Al-Aqsa Intifada era. Representation of the hero-subject is often coupled with physical and symbolic violence, which serves as a formative vector of the hero’s subjectivity in times of both “war” and “peace”. While the Palestinian national subject as defined by the Nakba is also formed out of violence, the socio-political landscape of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which follows the hopeful era of negotiated settlement to the Palestinian question, offers a point of comparison. Focusing on the shifts in how violence and non-violence are represented, I compare two clusters of elements that inform the hero’s subjectivity in the novels: one, the narrative on pain and suffering of the hero’s body, and two, the psycho-cultural notion of agency of the hero-subject.

Paper presenter: Hazem Jamjoum (Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights), “Soundtrack to a Revolution: Resistance Music of the Palestinian Struggle between the first and second Intifadas”
A reoccurring theme among many Palestinian activists in the 1980s engaged in the struggle against Israeli occupation has been the important role of revolutionary songs. The songs themselves came from all over the Arab world, travelling across borders in cassette tapes often marked as western love songs, putting listeners in the atmosphere of revolutionary movements in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, and Morocco. With the Oslo agreements and the creation of limited Palestinian self-rule through the Palestinian National Authority, the previous generation’s songs of resistance became readily available in music shops and via the Internet. The advent of the second Intifada in September 2000 brought with it a new generation of revolutionary songs; songs produced directly by political factions, dealing specifically with new forms of armed struggle and a new generation of martyrs and leaders, and most often delivered to listeners directly through the Internet. In this paper, I examine the role that resistance music played in the 1980s and the first Intifada, analyzing the themes and locating the artists in the context of the revolutionary movements of that period. The second part of the paper compares the resistance music of the second Intifada, the ways the new generation of Palestinian activists engaged with this music, and how they perceive the resistance music of the previous generation.

Paper presenter: Rania Jawad (New York University), “Theatre as Political Practice in Palestine”
This paper examines the diverse ways that the theatre in Palestine has been represented and configured as a form of political practice. While the existence of theatre texts and practices in Palestine before 1948 has served as a basis for documenting both the presence of Palestinian identity and cultural production, as well as the awareness of the Zionist threat, mobilization of the theatre in service of the anti-colonial liberation struggle in the 1960s and 70s reveals a certain currency attributed to the arts as part of the resistance. In the 1990s, the NGO-ization of the theatre, as well as the larger cultural sphere especially in the West Bank and Gaza, impacted the way theatre was both practiced and presented. Co-productions with Israeli theatre practitioners mimicked the politics of the Oslo process, while following the 2000 Intifada the proliferation of developmentally-focused foreign-funded projects infiltrated the occupied territories. Focusing on specific plays, the relationship between political and cultural production and practice in Palestine is analyzed following the Oslo accords. The positing of culture as art in opposition to both politics and to violence is also discussed, considering the representation of the theatre as largely a European art form, thus impacting how the theatre is made and received by its different audiences.

Paper presenter: Najat Rahman (University of Montreal), “Palestinian Films at the Limits of Representation and the Nation”
This paper analyzes two Palestinian films that were produced during the second Intifada and that attempt to represent, to varying extents, Palestinian life under occupation: Divine Intervention by Elia Suleiman (2002) and Paradise Now by Hany Abu Assad (2005). These two films (along with other cultural production) have provided a certain visibility to Palestinians in the face of their historical invisibility and defied the distorted media representations that associate them mainly with violence. The two films reflect consciously on the act of representation, on its political and aesthetic ramifications, especially when it comes to questions of identity and of violence. The question of the inequality of perspective is posed by both films. They ask the following questions: How does one represent what seems to defy representation? What are the possibilities and limits of their own representations? How does one represent differently in an age dominated by visual representations? What are the effects of humor on their representations? Finally, how do these films offer, to use Hamid Dabashi’s words, “emancipatory esthetic in the face of deadening political realities”? Taking into account that both films are co-productions, financed by European funds, made by Palestinians from 1948, and have received international recognition, these films starkly reveal the tensions between national narratives and transnational forces. I explore the effect of global influences (especially aesthetic ones) on the interrogations of identity.