The French art of cliché and Mid­dle East bias

Is­rael fares badly at a Paris ex­hi­bi­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books -

ON THE Paris Metro, head­ing to the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre, there are stick­ers declar­ing Is­rael “a ter­ror­ist state”. Once inside Les In­qui­ets ( The Anx­ious), an ex­hi­bi­tion “deal­ing with the sub­ject of the war in the Mid­dle East” through the work of five artists per­son­ally touched by the re­gion’s con­flicts, Is­rael does not fare much bet­ter.

The show opens with Is­raeli artist Yael Bar­tana’s 2004 Low Re­lief II, a video pro­jec­tion re­sem­bling a mo­bile frieze. In the ghostly white of the murky images, sol­diers ap­pear to be wrestling with an un­known pub­lic.

The images are mil­i­taris­tic, pre­dictable and in­stantly un­der­mine Pol­ish cu­ra­tor Joanna Mytkowska’s state­ment that she hand-picked the artists for their abil­ity “to trans­late the op­pres­sion of a con­flict into an al­ter­na­tive lan­guage based on the crit­i­cal anal­y­sis of its causes and back­ground…” There is no al­ter­na­tive lan­guage here. Just the ex­pected, over-used images of con­flict.

More prob­lem­atic, the pro­jec­tion ap­pears above the inside of the en­trance, a po­si­tion­ing so ob­tuse that most vis­i­tors, un­less they stop and look back, walk un­der and past.

This causes many to think the ex­hi­bi­tion in­stead be­gins with a trio of pho­to­graphs of Pales­tinian refugees in Mar­seille by Haifa-based Pales­tinian pho­tog­ra­pher Ah­lam Shi­bli. It is hard not to read this ob­scur­ing of Bar­tana’s work and di­rect­ing of vis­i­tors to Shi­bli’s pho­to­graphs as the cast­ing of a cu­ra­to­rial vote for Pales­tine, against Is­rael. Next comes an unimag­i­na­tive video work by Ber­lin-based Is­raeli artist Omer Fast, fea­tur­ing an ei­ther fac­tual or fic­tion­alised ac­count of a tour of duty in Iraq by a US sol­dier. In­tended as a cri­tique of tele­vised con­flict cov­er­age, it sim­ply states the ob­vi­ous.

Af­ter that, dom­i­nat­ing the ex­hibit, a se­ries of pho­to­graphs by Ah­lam Shi­bli, de­pict­ing the his­tory of Al-Shi­bli, a vil­lage deeply af­fected by the found­ing of Is­rael. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing cap­tions por­tray Is­rael as ag­gres­sor, op­pres­sor, land­grab­ber. Giv­ing Shi­bli the ma­jor­ity of the ex­hi­bi­tion space feels like an­other cu­ra­to­rial po­lit­i­cal state­ment.

From there, you move on to the 2003 video work, Three Posters, by Le­banese artist Rabih Mroue. This re­con­structs dis­carded footage of the “mar­tyr” video tes­ti­mony of Ja­mal Satti, who per­pe­trated the 1985 sui­cide bomb­ing against an Is­raeli mil­i­tary base in Le­banon. As the artist cri­tiques the ide­ol­ogy of the bomber, the im­age of Is­rael as “oc­cu­py­ing” ag­gres­sor once more holds the back­drop.

The ex­hi­bi­tion ends with an­other video work, by Le­banese artist Akram Zaatari, de­pict­ing an age­ing Le­banese “re­sis­tance fighter”.

All in all, it is a con­fused ex­hi­bi­tion, rife with the same over-tele­vised/pho­tographed im­agery (sui­cide bombers, refugees, sol­diers, flags, guns) it claims to be cri­tiquing. Les In­qui­ets speaks only in the clichés it prom­ises to tran­scend. NICK JOHN­STONE Les In­qui­ets con­tin­ues un­til May 19. De­tails at www.cen­tre­pom­pi­dou.fr

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