A new iteration of an exhibition previously put on by the Palestinian Museum US at the 2022 Venice Biennale is due to open at London’s P21 Gallery on 1 February. The show will include work by three additional artists as well as a film by the late Gazan journalist Roshdi Sarraj, who was killed in a targeted attack last October.
From Palestine with Art “is intended to be an introduction to Palestinian art”, says Faisal Saleh, the curator and director of the Palestinian Museum US, which is based in Connecticut. The show features a geographically and stylistically diverse group of artists, who together work across painting, sculpture, photography, textile art and installation.
They include the Gaza-based artist Mohammed Alhaj, whose mixed media work Women’s March is an homage to Palestinian women, and the Jerusalem-based artist Nameer Qasim, whose painting Enough (2020) references gender-based violence. The US-based Palestinian artist Samia Halaby, whose retrospective at Indiana University’s Eskenazi Museum of Art was cancelled last month over alleged concerns about “guaranteeing the integrity of the exhibit”, will be represented through her painting Venetian Red (2021).
Sarraj’s 25-minute documentary, which looks at the May 2021 IDF attack on Gaza, will take centre stage at the exhibition. The film, titled A Bank of Targets, will play in a continuous loop on nine different but conjoined monitors. It acts as a framing device and centrifugal force for the show.
Saleh recalls a recent conversation he had with the young filmmaker: “I was speaking with him a few days before he died. I was trying to locate a copy of the film with English subtitles. He told me it was too dangerous to go to his studio. A few days later he, like most of the 122 Palestinian journalists killed since 7 October, died at home.”
Due to complications with Italy’s fine arts export bureaucracy, the works by the 19 artists represented in the original show barely made it to London in time because they were still housed in a Venetian warehouse.
New works—namely three sketches of Gazan children by the Haifa-based artist Janan Abdu—only arrived on Monday thanks to Abdu's Palestinian friend, who dropped them off rolled up in a tube.
Other new additions to the exhibition include the Galilee-based artist Sobhiya Hasan Qais’s 2023 acrylic on canvas painting depicting Lifta—a village near Jerusalem that was depopulated in 1948—and the Spain-based artist Samira Badran’s drawing on textile titled Siege (2005).
Also of note is Nabil Anani’s 3m-wide 2020 acrylic on canvas landscape In Pursuit of Utopia, which invokes a lost Palestinian idyll, and Ibrahim Alazza’s 2020/21 installation All That Remains, which reimagines the traditional Palestinian kuffiya, replacing the motif of fishing nets with barbed wire. Alazza has previously hung the work in public places to symbolise “the continuous movement and exile of Palestinian refugees”, he says on his website.
The exhibition comes after a challenging period for the Palestinian Museum US. Its recent applications for the 2023 Venice Architectural Biennale and the 2024 art biennale were both rejected, decisions that Saleh maintains were made for political reasons. “In Europe now they are taking every opportunity to please Israel,” he says.
The proposal for the Architecture Biennale was centred on a commemoration of the nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948, in which around 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced following the formation of Israel. The Art Biennale proposal focused on “the conditions in which Palestinians live under occupation—checkpoints, house demolitions, arrests, harassment etc—and an exhibition showcasing their perseverance against unimaginable odds," Saleh says.
Saleh went on to show the architecture show independently at Venice's Palazzo Mora, and rejected art exhibition will open at that same venue on 20 April. “At a time when many Western institutions are cancelling Palestinian artists, it’s very important to keep their voices alive,” he says.
Sadly, he notes that Alhaj, who has been living with his family in a tent in Khan Yunis, Gaza, since last month has not been heard from since 22 January.