Emily Jacir: An Artist Without Borders

David and I just returned from a trip to San Francisco where we watched, among other things, some heterosexual pals get initiated into the exclusive “straights-only” country club of holy matrimony.  We also made a trip to SFMOMA to see the current shows, especially The Art of Participation and Brought To Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900.  The photography show was see-it-to-believe-it fascinating, and The Art of Participation touched on many of the same themes I found so compelling in the WACK! show in Vancouver.  But for me, the biggest treat began with one simple question:

“If I could do anything for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?”

This question—posed in English and Arabic to Palestinians living around the world—provides the content for Where We Come From, a body of work by Palestinian artist Emily Jacir currently installed as part of Passageworks, an exhibition of contemporary art from SFMOMA’s permanent collection.  Born in Baghdad and educated abroad, Jacir currently divides her time between New York and Ramallah.  The artist holds a U.S. passport, which affords her a freedom of movement that is typically denied to Palestinians.

Between 2001 and 2003, the artist filled as many requests as she could on behalf of other Palestinians with limited access to their ancestral homeland. She hugged a mother, played soccer with children in Haifa, and purchased a soft drink from an out-of-the way grocer.  She offered prayers at holy sites, placed flowers on graves, and photographed the Mediterranean Sea from a beloved vantage point.  She documented all these actions with photographs, video and bilingual text.

"Visit my mother, hug and kiss her and tell her these are from her son."

Emily Jacir, Where We Come From, 2001-03.  Documentation of filled request: “Visit my mother, hug and kiss her and tell her these are from her son.”

There is, of course, a strong political undercurrent to Jacir’s project.  The Palestinians she represents are all victims of oppressive restrictions imposed by the Israeli government, and an indictment of these policies is inherent in her actions.  But Jacir gracefully navigates this territory without so much as a whiff of self-righteousness.  There is a quiet elegance to everything she undertakes, even as some of the requests she fills are downright heartbreaking.  Where We Come From is political art at its finest, putting deeply sympathetic faces on occupation in such a way that even the current political realities of Palestine are transcended in favor of universal experiences of freedom, love and human dignity.

Emily Jacir’s Where We Come From is tucked away on the fourth floor of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art , as part of the exhibition Passageworks, on view through January 19.

~ by emilypothast on January 1, 2009.

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