Letters Home: along the 32nd parallel and 35° east

Discussion of “Letters Home: along the 32nd parallel 35° East”. Originally written,in part, for the 4th Juried International Exhibition of Islamic Contemporary Art, LuminArté Gallery, Dallas, TX (curated by Salma Tuqan, Curator, Contemporary Art of the Middle East, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK), 2015. 2 works.

DFellowsSaharQandHaifaQ The Conversation.jpg

Image 1:  Local Time 14:15:05 to 09:14:28 June 01, 2013, Portrait of Sahar Q. and Haifa Q., (Daughter and Mother): “The Conversation” South Mount Hebron, Area C., The Occupied Territories of the West Bank.

Image 2:  (Left) Local Time 16:15 hrs. May 29, 2013 “Landscape through a train window: inside the Green Line”, 31°49' N 34°59’ E. (Right) Local Time 14:00 hrs. June 2, 2013 “Love in Ramallah”, Area A, The Occupied Territories of the West Bank


             In the summer of 2013, I traveled through extraordinary geographies disquietingly familiar. Traveling through politically bounded Israeli and Palestinian geographies of the West Bank and Occupied Territories, I self-consciously absorb landscapes and people while reflecting the uncertainty of my surroundings. It is a necessary trip not because of any overt political affiliation or religious practice, but because of the circumstantial narrative that defines me. As a second-generation child of a Shoah survivor from Berlin, Germany, the effect of my parent’s experience on her perception of the world, and her children’s perception of their world is often more nuanced than overtly evident. Stories of war’s remembrance, as told to me, are an assemblage of family relationships lived during an impossible time. Stories of dislocation, refuge, and relocation are part of the complex relationship between generations- between the survivor and her children, between the second-generation and subsequent generations. 

             The Israeli - Palestinian geography is a place of multiple places experienced at multiple scales such as the iconic overwhelming construct of a concrete barrier that encloses and separates communities, separates conversations, carves the land, and renegotiates spatial movement. Concrete barriers have been photographed and videotaped leaving documentation as a physical trace that proves corporeal conditions. Intangible and ephemeral borders, however, are more difficult to locate. They lodge inside one’s psyche and are nurtured over time, slowly, often making corporeality incomprehensible because perceptions of places and people are not as they seem. This geography, its landscapes and cultures, is where the past and the present collide in a historical narrative that is a deeply personal and deeply public one.

            The work, “The Conversation” between Sahar Q. and her mother, Haifa Q., takes place in Area C, South Mount Hebron of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.  Sahar Q is an architect I have known since she studied in the United States. Shortly after my arrival in the region, I met Sahar at the Jerusalem Malha Railway station for the drive to Ramallah through the Qalandiya checkpoint.  She seems to have changed immeasurably from when I knew her as an architecture student a few years ago. They say, change is necessary, and change is often good. But there is another sort of change that causes the body to slowly feel weighted. It is change caused by entrapment, by physical constraint and emotional containment. It is change that also teaches survivor tactics. Tactics that last a lifetime, and shape your future:  how you move through places, how you make a home, how you trust or do not trust, and, how you love.

            The conversation between Sahar Q. and Haifa Q., daughter and mother, two Palestinian women, is intimately framed and connects the viewer to the women’s reflective strength. Because of the tight framing, one cannot see exactly their location within the landscape. Perhaps our expectations of place are dislodged? If so, we are no longer observers but, now, participants in their conversation.

            “Landscape through a train window: inside the Green Line 31°49' N 34°59’ E” and “Love in Ramallah” are fleeting impressions of a timeless landscape defying boundaries. The Green Line is the area recognized as the political boundary of Israel and the Palestinian Territory after 1949 and pre-1967. The current separation wall exists east of the Green Line, and intersects the demarcation line at various sections along the boundary. The Green Line is commonly referred to as “no-mans land”, however, the train from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem cuts through the Green Line area. The location of  “Landscape through a train window: inside the Green Line” is approximately 31°49' N 34°59’ E. I know this only because of satellite mapping. It is a reminder of the dislodging of a physical spatial connection and heightens a sense of dislocation when travelling from one specific geographic point to another one.

            Spending time in Ramallah, I walk the city daily. Walking past the Ramallah Municipal Park entrance I move past a couple arriving at street level from the park. “Love in Ramallah” is a moment caught when my camera and the couple move past each other. Just as the desert landscape, with its seemingly never-ending sunlight and wind, cannot be contained, love, too, cannot be bounded.

            This work is part of a series titled “Letters Home: along the 32 parallel, 35 degrees east” that includes photographic images, text, and film. The work addresses how distinct moments in the physical landscape and constructed fabric of the region frames the temporal condition of place and people where remembrance, rooted in past events, is intertwined in the desire for unbounded conditions. Each image is marked by the objectivity of time when the photograph becomes a witness to that experience.