أهلا وسهلا في موقع سلام ذياب

15/04/2005

By Susan Nathan, Tamra, and Jonathan Cook, Nazareth

UNINVITED EXHIBITION

 Maybe it is inevitable that the best art from Palestinian citizens of Israel dwells on the complex issues of their identity. And this is especially true of our good friend, Tamran artist Salam Diab, whose work explores the disturbing aspects of being a stranger in one's own country, of being an Arab and a Muslim in a country that declares itself a state of the Jewish people. Salam's work, however, is always more ambigious and confusing than it at first appears. Consider, for example, the unusual title of the exhibition, "Uninvited". Not only is the title meant to convey his feeling that he is not welcome in his homeland, but it also dangerously challenges the self-image promoted by his own society, one in which famously the rules of hospitality are sacrosanct. Personally Salam is always welcoming and courteous to friends and strangers alike. But his art  should make us pause for a moment to consider what it means to be invited and uninvited, to be welcome and unwelcome, to be included and excluded.

The line separating them is far from clear.

 Many of the works on exhibition reflect these difficult ideas: of what it means to belong and not to belong, and how interconnected both ideas are.

The work on which the title of the exhibition is based is a painting on a piece of wooden packing case at whose centre there is a yellow star surrounded by the outlines of other, larger stars above the word "Uninvited", stamped in red letters of the kind found on crates of cargo.

The star is both the Star of David, which Jews were forced to wear in the ghettos of Europe before their extermination in the Nazi death camps, and also the star seen next to the Islamic crescent on flags. Just as the Jews were uninvited from Europe, so they have made Palestinian Muslims like Salam uninvited in his homeland. The planks of wood on which the star appears represent both the walls of the European ghettos and the new wall the Jewish state is building across Palestine. But the packing case both a protective box and a cage in which objects are stored while they are sent long distances - also suggests that removal is ultimately what both peoples risk enduring. The red of "Uninvited" appears as a smear of blood the price that must be paid for those who outstay their welcome.

 The sense that some of us are welcome and others must forever be strangers, Salam's work suggests, is deeply damaging to both sides, in the end making all of us weak. One of the motifs in several of Salam's new paintings is an iconic image of Mussolini riding on a horse his arm raised in salute. In one, there is an outline of Israel/Palestine behind him, with the the word "Pal-est-ine" broken up by different colours. It represents the way the country has been endlessly divided, by partition plans, wars and now by the wall. The Mussolini figure suggests both a past and a future of dictatorial leadership. And as ever with Salam's ambiguous messages, there is more than hint that the dictatorial leader is not just to be found on the Jewish side of the divide. Arab history has always revered the mythic figure of a leader on a horse. As much as Salam is not comfortable with his Israeli identity, there is a feeling that his Palestinian-ness is not an easy matter for him either.

 The fear that follows from this sense of alienation is clearly represented in the painting "Nobody knows", its background an indistinct flag. The colours of the flag drip like blood, leaving the viewer with the disturbing feeling that the future is unknown and dangerous.

 Salam likes to rework his themes, varying them slightly each time in what become effectively a series of paintings. In sum, such series suggest that the search for a complete identity is futile, as if Palestinians in Israel are doomed forever to keep trying on another identity in the vain hope that one day they will find the perfect fit. The hope that identity can be reduced to a label - Jew, Arab; good, bad; friend, stranger - is equally nonsensical. Many of Salam's series feature phrases stamped on to everyday materials - towels, packing crates - as if mocking our belief the human condition can be transformed into a logo, our desires, needs and fears categorised and sorted away like a crate of apples.

 It is noticeable that blue and white, the colours of the Israeli flag, feature much more prominently than the colours of red, green and black of the Palestinian flag. Salam clearly has a longing for acceptance in his state; the fact is that it is he who is the one being rejected by his country and not the other way round. This feeling of rejection, of being viewed as something less than a citizen, is powerfully evoked in his series of paintings of cows, again on packing crates. These works were inspired by a visit he made to Gaza, when he was forced to cross the border - as are all Palestinians - through turnstiles which are little more than "cattle

grids". Graphically stripped of the sense that he was a citizen, Salam was made to feel instead - like the Gazans - that he is regarded by his state as little more than an animal.

 

 >> أتصل بنا     E-mail

حقوق الطبع محفوظة للفنان سلام ذياب