A very large part of Jordanian culture today is interwoven with the effects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Jordan is a nation of about 10 million people, and almost 2 million are here as refugees from Palestine or descendants of these refugees. It is not abnormal to see the Palestinian flag flying alongside the Jordanian flag, and Palestinian food and dress are common. Many generations of families who live in Jordan identify as being Palestinian and speak of their roots. Tragically, it is rare for those living in Jordan to be able to return to their homeland or even visit relatives in Palestine as Israel controls the visa process.          

Part of a recent art exhibit at Darat Al-Funun named “Do It in Arabic” I attended helped to include visitors in the art as a way of conveying the realities of the Palestinian struggle. “Do It Arabic” is part of the global “Do It” exhibitions, which are in over 50 countries around the world and are designed to start dialogue about a country’s culture and community.  The “Do It” project was started in Paris in 1993 and has expanded since then. The exhibits in Jordan’s Darat Al-Funun were designed to connect the audience to the art by making it interactive and including an instruction sheet in both Arabic and English that showed ways to either add to the exhibit or recreate it.

Many of the pieces in the exhibit exemplified the loss of identity that comes from not having access to one’s homeland. For example, the above piece highlights keeping one’s face and location vague, as the keffiyah, or Palestinian scarf, is the main focal point of the picture. The people in the pictures are showing their allegiance to Palestine in the best way they can, indicating that support for the nation is the priority. (Scroll down for detailed information about each piece featured in this post.)

The above piece, dubbed “Rotation of Picasso in Palestine”, at first appears to be just a repeating picture of two people standing in front of pictures of other people. It is only after reading the description that the meaning becomes clearer. Beneath the layers of the picture there is a beautiful work of art, but it is blocked by the presence of repressive guards. Many aspects of Palestinian culture are hidden in such a way, without opportunity to display or express them through the layers of the conflict. What is instead at the forefront is a representation of force, personified by the guards. The Picasso piece is buried deeper with every addition to the layers of the picture, much as Palestinian culture is buried further as the years go on.

One of the most memorable pieces in the exhibit focused on the loss of migrants’ lives, not only in Palestine but globally. Papers cranes were beautifully hung from the ceiling to symbolize the lost lives of migrants as they attempted to find new homes. Cranes are traditionally migratory birds, and these cranes were formed from old shipping receipts to symbolize travel. In Japanese culture, they are also symbols of a wish. The use of shipping documents relates to the dehumanization of migrants, who are often sent to various parts of the world like cargo. There is little regard for their opinion of where they would like to go, but more attention paid which areas can afford to take in the migrants. The number of cranes in the room was staggering, showing how many people had passed through the exhibit and taken the time to contribute to it.

Overall, I was impressed with the span of this exhibition. Over 60 artists were involved in contributing to it. It was easily one of the most interactive exhibitions I have seen, and it worked to leave its mark on visitors.  Once one becomes a part of political art, it transfers a sort of responsibility to the viewer. By inviting viewers to contribute and be a part of the continuing art, it shows that there are ways to spread awareness of tragedy.