Wednesday, September 30, 2020

‘On Women in Revolutions’ exhibition: where are the true revolutionary stories?

By Ruth Regan - February 13, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Culture]
Tags: [artist] [exhibition] [women‘s rights] [resistance] [Birzeit University]

Saturday 10 February saw the launch of the exhibition On Women in Revolutions, organised in collaboration with A. M. Qattan Foundation and the Birzeit University Museum.

The exhibit aims to draw attention to the erasure and subsequent iconisation of the women behind the revolutionary movement in Palestine.
Co-curator Yazid Anani told Palestine Monitor he would like visitors to “question how women are framed and reframed and placed on a pedal stool once and then squashed.”
Whilst his co-curator Samar Martha summarised; “the subject of the exhibition is to reflect and question and engage with the issue of women in our society and their role in ... in history and revolution.”
On entering the exhibit, the visitor is first met with video clips by the French filmmaker Jean Luc-Godard. This introduces the idea of the male, western gaze through which stories of Palestinian women are often framed.
This dehumanisation framing of revolutionary women is the running theme throughout the exhibit, explored by 24 artists across various mediums.

One wall is dedicated to staged, black-and-white retakes of 1960s and 70s photographs of revolutionary women posing with rifles. Appearing authentic at first glance, look closer and note the backdrop of contemporary Ramallah and the visitor will note this is a satirical recreation.
Modern recreations of iconised photos from the 60s and 70s of revolutionary women posing with rifles.
A wasted opportunity?

While the message of the marginalisation of female revolutionary figures is made very clear, little is done to re-contextualise these same figures and actually tell their stories.

The introductory text of the exhibition cites the figures Dalal al-Moghrabi, Djamila Bouhired and Kathleen Cleaver for having 'become iconic to contemporary movements and anti-state uprisings’. Yet at no point in the exhibition are these women’s actual actions touched upon.

Visitors to the exhibit leave none-the-wiser to the tangible role of women in revolution.

Amal Hjouj, a visitor attending the exhibition’s opening, remarked; “I expected to go to an exhibit about marginalised women whose stories had never been exposed, and then I come here and it’s just women with guns and a bunch of retakes of that.”

Perhaps the exhibit’s lack of depth results from it not being a standalone event but part of a wider series.

“This exhibition is part of our work to continue promoting contemporary art practice and the creation of knowledge,” Martha said.

Anani contextualised;

We launched the first event in the first week of last December. It was composed of two exhibitions, film screenings and a seminar with the Women’s Studies department of Birzeit University.”

“We’re thinking of a huge event in 2019 based on this research.”

When questioned on the potential dangers of this exhibit serving to reinforce stereotypes of “girls with guns” Anani answered, “this is an art exhibition and it’s open up for your personal interpretation.”

Martha was confident that the exhibition would not perpetuate stereotypes. “I think there’s enough context here.”

But she did admit concern “people will still iconise these images [such as Leila Khaled], that they’ll be iconicised again. That’s what scares me, people will have these images stuck in their mind and they won’t look beyond it.”

Over My Dead Body by Mona Hatoum. A perturbed Hatoum stares down at a toy soldier perched on her nose.
One art-piece by Bashar Alhroub depicts empty frames with silhouettes of women in revolution. Yet it does little to open up their narratives beyond merely acknowledging that they played a role. 

“[The artist] did the research ... It’s up to the artist to take further and he might explore in future events,” said Martha, defending the piece. 

“What I like most about what research the artist did is that there’s much more to learn about a woman in revolution in Palestine than what has been told by the authorities. Beyond the icons we already have there are so many unsaid stories and women that haven’t been noticed. I’d like people to start looking beyond [that].”

Ironically however, it seems as though the perfect opportunity for doing just that has been squandered.

Admission is free and the exhibit will run until 10 April 2018.

Lead photo: Bashar Alhroub's depiction of the marginalised women in revolution whose stories do not get told.

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