A Lens on Gaza and NYC
By Amelie Petitdemange
Claire Trevor School of the Arts hosted two film exhibitions united by themes of politics. “On This Island” by English artist Rosalind Nashashibi focuses on Gaza, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel, while Sharon Hayes’s “After Before” reflects back on the 2004 presidential election.
The Contemporary Arts Center Gallery features Nashashibi’s two videos — “Eyeballing,” made in 2005 in New York City and “Electrical Gaza,” filmed in Gaza in 2014.
A series of everyday moments describes Gaza as a city full of contradictions: it contains an amazing hospitality but a restrictive militancy and a voice of resistance combined with misery.
Still, a certain joy transpires throughout this film. We see scenes of happiness, of a colorful market, of kids playing in the streets, and we almost forget the Israeli authority overlooking this contested territory.
“You feel stuck,” Rosalind Nashashibi explained, recalling her trip to Gaza. “You don’t know if you will enter, and once you’re inside, you don’t know if you will leave.”
To convey this tension, Nashashibi added digital animations throughout the film, where drawings replace images.
“The viewer is between reality and imagination. When I entered Gaza, it was my first impression: you can’t see it, but you feel this overwhelming authority,” said Nashashibi.
The filmmaker also remembers how excited she was when she finally arrived, four years after her initial idea of visiting her father’s homeland of Palestine. She needed to go in order to make the movie, but also wanted to express solidarity with its inhabitants.
“I couldn’t make a film on Gaza in staying in my secure London,” she explained.
“It’s not a report or a documentary. Many people already did it. It’s more a transcription of my own experience there,” she said.
You don’t learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about the history of Gaza in this artwork, but you feel a part of Gaza, you make the trip with Rosalind, and you meet the people she met.
Across from this “island,” “Eyeballing” reveals another island: Manhattan. With her 2005 film, Nashashibi discusses the increased surveillance in our cities, but also reminds viewers of the recent issues surrounding police brutality.
The other exhibition by Sharon Hayes, “After Before,” is installed in the Room Gallery in the Art, Culture and Technology Building. A polyptych of screens circles the viewer to feature the two protagonists on the streets of New York City, camera in hand, asking people about their vision of America and if they are “prepared for the November 2,” referring to the presidential election of 2004.
“Sharon Hayes is returning to an art format used in the 60’s by the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini. She created an artwork which looks like a documentary, but in fact she’s breaking all the rules of this genre,” explained Juli Carson, curator and gallery director.
The impression is disturbing: it seems like you are viewing a documentary, but as the film goes on, details show that this is not the case; people are talking about personal matters instead of politics and sometimes they don’t even make sense.
This snapshot of pre-election America is still relevant 12 years later. We are now one month away from the presidential election and tension is still constantly increasing in the Middle East, as is the fear of terrorism.
These two exhibitions offer past snapshots of Gaza and New York City, but also refer to what we are currently living. In this extent, they perfectly meet each other. As Juli Carson highlights, “planning exhibitions is as planning a dinner party: you have to create a great match.”