Conflict in Dialogue. Renegotiating memory and subjectivities in the Palestinian refugee camp Burj al-Shamali by reviving and extending photography.
Which are the different modalities and the limits of visual representation in a society in which memory is mainly based on oral transmission and where photographs are scarce and private?
This research is based on an extended stay in Burj al-Shamali, a Palestinian refugee camp southeast of Tyre, in Southern Lebanon, where I lived between 2006 and 2011 and have been working for the past ten years. Along the years I developed and collected – mostly in collaboration with camp residents – an extensive digital photographic archive of family and studio photographs, which also includes videos and audio recordings.
Learning from postcolonial critique of archives as tools for empirical and epistemological domination which, through classification, were used to produce hierarchies and position the colonial Other in an immobile framework, I refer to artistic research as a methodology to conceive new ways of approaching and collecting images in Burj al-Shamali camp. Such an enterprise is both a way to reflect critically on images and the production of archives throughout history – hence exposing power structures that are inherent to visual representation – and an endeavour to envision the possibility of new relationships to images and the processes by which they are shown and looked at. While I focus on private family photographs I aim at questioning the iconography of the Palestinian refugees created through images mainly produced by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and eventually at exploring family photographs as a possible tool for individual and collective emancipation.
Engaging in an in-depth dialogue about their personal photographs, and taking into consideration the conflicts and mutual transformation induced by our dialogue, I hope to be able to make multiple layers of narratives become visible: transcripts, personal recollections, stories, interviews, all related to the photographs. With a resort to fiction all these elements will create the basis for a series of experiments for extending photography, suggesting a complex construct of memory and vision of Burj al-Shamali camp. In a broader context and from a post-colonial perspective it seems evident that making private images public, and superposing them onto oral memory is an ambiguous task. Therefore I am considering how, in the process of negotiation between stakeholders on adequate forms of (non)-visualisation of the image archive in Burj al-Shamali, one can rethink the question of conflict in dialogue, and how conflict can be represented in artistic research and production. I want to approach these questions by using the concept of transformation of embodied subjectivities as developed by Elisabeth Povinelli. Finally, this work aims at producing different artistic formats through the extension of photography, towards storytellings, installations, performances or publications.
Storytelling, Llibrary of the State Museum of Contemporary Art (Moni Lazariston), Thessaloniki, Greece.
Setting of lecture performance, (re)collecting images, Ruins of an Ottoman castle in the village of Abwein for Gestures in Time: the 4th Riwaq Biennale and Jerusalem Show VI for the 1st Qalandiya International, Abwein, Palestine, November 2012. Photograph Andrea Thal.
Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh studied history, photography and visual anthropology in Paris. In 2006, she moved to Burj al-Shamali, a refugee camp established in 1956 and located just south of the port city of Tyre, Lebanon, where she lived until 2010. In Burj al-Shamali she carried out a photographic project with a group of young Palestinians, as well as archival work on family and studio photographs and began a personal still ongoing research on vernacular visual cultures and on artistic gestures including dialogical approaches. Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh is a member of the Arab Image Foundation (http://www.fai.org.lb) since 2008.