Emily Jacir

The perception of the artist, Emily Jacir’s work is often from a diasporic narrative. Examining issues that relate to borders boundaries and the act of passing through places. Parallels are therefore easily drawn between Emily Jacir and the collective experience of the Palestinian people. Jacir, however, asserts that her art is about her own personal experience of her surroundings and the journeys back and forth that she makes. That being said, the Palestinian influence is indisputable in the work that she creates, having produced many significant pieces that have heightened the global awareness in this area.

With a definite political undertone, her work is investigative in nature. She delves into themes like the displacement of people, exile, division, borders, boundaries, resistance to the more sovereign authority and misrepresentation. She has the ability to demystify the complex subject of human rights with her minimal approach and her clear and concise visual language.

A point of contention in the art world is the alignment of Jacir’s artwork. Is she an exile championing the global diasporic community or a Palestinian artist who represents the Palestinian experience?

In his essay Desire in Diaspora, Demos clearly aligns Jacir with the state of the exiled artist. He suggests she identifies with and the global diasporic communities and represents the exiled through her displaced language of mobility and her apparent resistance to geographic and political representations. He suggests that her perception of home is displaced and therefore site specificity does not exist for her.

The impossibility of sitedness explains why exile is such a ravaging experience, resulting even in a form of mutilation, as those who have experienced it testify: exile represents “the unhealable rift between a human being and a native place, between self and its true home,” a rift that separates one from “the nourishment of tradition, family, and geography.”2 Were the exile to latch on to any site, it appears, the attachment would too easily be exposed as compensatory or nostalgic, reactionary or escapist. (Demos, 2017)

Rasha Salti suggests that Jacir has become unfairly characterized as an exiled artist who challenges site specificity. He argues that she has become deterritorialized and distanced from the Palestinian collective memory. Suggesting that she has assumed a more global identity, that of the ”emerging trend of ‘diasporic artists’ perpetually tortured by permanent exile.” (Lauzon, 2017) He clearly aligns Jacir as the localized artist representing only the Palestinian experience.

Lauzon suggests that given Jacir herself retains freedom because of her dual Palestinian-American nationality, it is implausible for her to depict an accurate reflection of Palestinian life. Her artwork in fact juxtaposes her own freedom with that of the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian people. Referring to Where we Come From (Osama) as an example, Lauzon considers Salti’s opinion further:

 “But while this work, like Where we come From, must certainly be understood as a critique of the forced immobility and deterritorialization endured by most Palestinians it does not follow that Jacir’s work proposes “a post national basis of collective identification, one based on the construction of a fluid culture of belonging”. Jacir’s project, far from problematizing sitedness, instead challenges the very un-siting of collective identity in the practice and theorization of diasporic art. (Lauzon, 2017)

Jacir’s work definitely relates to the global diasporic art community, however associations are clearly made with the Palestinian population who continues to live in Palestine. The juxtaposition between her own freedom and Palestinians she appears to represent is poignant, adding more depth to her work and provoking greater consideration. In answer to the point of contention, global or local artist – perhaps she is both.

In the piece Where We Come From (Osama), Jacir attained recognition as an unofficial representative for the Palestinian Diaspora. She used her freedom of movement to travel to Palestine and fulfil simple requests for Palestinians. These people were unable to travel to Palestine because of disenfranchisement, circumstances that the displaced across the world can relate too.

Through the documentation of these interactions, Jacir provides a glimpse into a world where restriction of movement, isolation and lack of freedom are commonplace. Each request, so intimate and significant, the fulfilment of everyday activities that we in the west take for granted. It is understandable to begin to identify with the requestors. These everyday requests establishing a familiarity and a desire to know more. What happened to these people, where are they now?

Crossing Surda (a record of going to and from work) (2002), a two channel video installation with ambient sound portrays the routine act of commuting to and from work through the border check point between Ramallah and Surda. On the first recording of this journey, Jacir was obstructed by soldiers stating no filming was allowed in Israeli military zones. During the violence that followed, her videotape was confiscated, her American passport thrown in the mud and she was detained.

In response to this, Jacir decided to carve a hole in her bag and chronicle the journey with her video camera hidden. For eight days she crossed the checkpoint in this manner putting herself at tremendous risk. Throughout she demonstrated a determination typical of the Palestinian people.

Azadeh Saljooghi, for the magazine, Borderless World: Media and Human Mobility across Divided Spaces describes the risk that Jacir was obviously undertaking throughout this journey;

“This risky record of a collective commute illustrates that the lengthy and time consuming process of “crossing” is burdensome and dangerous.” (Saljooghi, 2017)

Ironically in the piece there is no record of the journey home. She alludes to the fact that maybe there is no home to return too. This highlights what must be a prevailing sentiment for the Palestinians ostracised from their homeland.

Juxtaposition is self-evident in both these pieces of work. They possess an intimacy and familiarity in the everyday activities juxtaposed with the sharp contrast of the risk, threat and military control. Her freedom of movement prominently opposing the restrictions faced by the people she appears to represent. Jacir portrays a palpable, succinct representation of the Palestinian Diaspora which aligns with that of the global diasporic community.

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