The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Emily Jacir and her "controversial" art

I haven't seen any of Emily Jacir's art in person, but I thought it sounded pretty fantastic when I read this article about her last summer. She's a young, successful Palestinian artists whose work is conceptually sophisticated yet politically engaged (one of her pieces tackled the assassination of Palestinian intellectual Wael Zuaiter in Rome in 1972; in another piece, "Where We Come From," she fulfilled the wishes of people in the Occupied Territories who couldn't get permission themselves to leave). 

So I've been pretty excited that an exhibition of her installation about Zuaiter, "Material for a Film," will be opening at the Guggenheim this Friday (she won the Hugo Boss Prize, given out every year by the Guggenheim). 

Yet from the moment she started getting recognition as an artist, Jacir has apparently been the focus of the kind of artificial controversy and double standards that, in the US, accompany any discussion of the life and history of the Palestinians. 

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that today's Sunday New York Times has an interview with her in which a great majority of the questions are awkward (if not inane) attempts to get her to comment on her "controversial" politics. 

Not only does the interviewer mention that "her politically provocative art has drawn some sharp criticism from those who feel it maligns Israel,"--without giving one substantive example of what this "maligning" consists of. 

The interview also includes exchanges such as the following. (A bit of context: in "Material for a Film," Jacir shot a thousand blank books. The idea came to her when she discovered that Zuaier had been carrying the 1001 Nights in his pocket the day he was shot by Mossad agents, and that a bullet lodged in the book.)

Q. Did you feel a sense of revenge against the Mossad?

A. Absolutely not, and that was not the intention of the piece.

Q. Steven Spielberg’s film “Munich” appeared in 2005 around the time you began work on “Material for a Film.” Was it a catalyst for your project?

A. Spielberg’s film appeared long after I was well into my research, and he didn’t bring anything new to the table.

Q. What would you like those who view this work at the Guggenheim to take away from seeing it?

A. Poetry.

Q. You’re active politically. In the past few weeks you have called for artists to boycott Israel and for New Yorkers to condemn Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s recent visit to Israel in support of Israeli military actions. How do you distinguish between your political activity and your art?

A. They are two completely different things.

Q. How so? Aren’t they conjoined, in a sense?

A. Yes, they are conjoined in the sense that this is like asking me how I distinguish between my love life and my art, or my family and my art, or the food I cook and my art. Or my physical activity and my art, or my intellectual pursuits and my art.


Honestly, no comment.