French Jewish body tries to close down Palestinian 'no home' exhibition

July 3, 2013
Sarah Benton

In this posting: 1) Petition; 2) news report Huffington Post, June, 2013; 3) flavorwire (online American arts review) looks at the controversy, July 2013; Notes and links at end.

Ahlam Shibli’s Untitled, (Death n° 33), 2012. The attempt by French Jewish groups to close the exhibition has been justified on the grounds of her use of the term ‘martyr’. Shibli’s retrospective, called “Phantom Home,” will run until September 1 at Jeu de Paume in Paris


Together, whether as artists, intellectuals, people working in the field of culture and creation, or men and women from all walks of life, we are rallying to thwart the repeated attempts of all those who have decided to set themselves up as censors with the aim of closing the exhibition ‘Phantom Home’ at the Jeu de Paume, a retrospective of the work of Palestinian artist Ahlam Shibli.

We call on the government to assume its responsibilities:

1/ By guaranteeing the protection of the people and the works themselves, which have been subjected to repeated threats and a bomb scare;

2/ By clearly reasserting the right to free artistic expression and debate in our country through dialogue and the exchanging of experiences;

3/ By unconditionally supporting the Jeu de Paume’s arts policy and the events it programs

Suicide Bomber Art: Ahlam Shibli, Palestinian Photographer, Creates Controversy In Paris Show

By Huffington Post
June 11, 2013

A series of photographs depicting Palestinian suicide bombers has recently been stirring up controversy when revealed as part of a Ahlam Shibli’s latest retrospective in Paris. The exhibition, entitled “Death,” depicts the deceased through photographs, posters, graves and graffiti. Yet while the museum describes the departed as martyrs and freedom fighters in press releases and image captions, the European Union has referred to many of those pictured as terrorists.

The exhibition opened May 28 at Paris’ Jeu de Paume museum, which is subsidized by the French government. According to the museum’s website “the work deals with the loss of home and the fight against that loss, but also with restrictions and limitations that the idea of home imposes on the individuals.” Yet the exhibition’s inclusion of members of organizations including Hamas and Fatah enraged the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France.

CRIF President Roger Cukierman told Haaretz it was “particularly lamentable and unacceptable that such a display should justify terrorism from the heart of Paris.”

Art in America’s Kim Bradley gave a thoughtful review of Shibli’s contentious work:

She has probed deeply into the devastating impact that the frustrated quest for a home has had, and presents a terrifying portrait of a place where a continuing cult of martyrdom — and terrorism — appears inevitable.

Shibli’s “Death” exhibition is part of her greater retrospective, which includes photography series exploring Polish orphanages and the French resistance during the Nazi occupation. The retrospective, called “Phantom Home,” will run until September 1 at Jeu de Paume in Paris. Let us know your thoughts on this controversial exhibition in the comments.

Ahlam Shibli explains some of her photographs exhibited at the documenta 12 art fair, one of the world’s most important exhibitions of contemporary art, June 2007 in Kassel, Germany. Photo by Barbara Sax/AFP/Getty Images

Should France Censor Ahlam Shibli’s Photos of Suicide Bomber “Martyrs” in Occupied Palestine?

By Reid Singer, flavorwire
July 1, 2013 

The photography world is embroiled in debate about Ahlam Shibli, a Palestinian artist whose exhibition, Phantom Home [Foyer Fantôme] is now on view at the Jeu de Paume in Paris. Along with a picture from a veterans’ remembrance ceremony in the French town of Tulle and an unremarkable shot of an Israeli soldier in central Israel, one series in the show, titled Death, includes images of domestic shrines to Palestinian suicide bombers. Inflamed by Shibli’s choice to refer to the bombers as “martyrs” in her wall labels, Jewish groups have condemned the show on the grounds that it justifies and glorifies terrorism, and have called the French Ministry of Culture and Communication to forcibly shut it down.

Many people and organizations have stepped forward to defend Shibli and the museum’s director, Marta Gili, including the International Committee for Modern Art Museums and Collections (CIMAM). The author of a CIMAM petition on writes that by capturing her subjects at home, where rock-star posters of departed suicide bombers abound, Shibli has pushed forward the dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In their minds, the deification of suicide bombers — a fact of life in the Palestinian territories — has gone under-exposed, and the public would benefit from seeing Shibli’s attempt at delivering a more subtle and complex portrayal of the Palestinian situation. By suppressing her show, the argument goes, the Ministry of Culture would be suppressing her right to free expression.

Ahlam Shibli. Untitled, (Death n° 37), 2012. Chromogenic print,  100 x 66.7 cm.
Ahlam Shibli. Untitled, (Death n° 37), 2012. Chromogenic print, 100 x 66.7 cm.

What’s maddening is that on its own, the series absolutely succeeds in capturing the lives of Palestinians struggling in the occupied territories. Without her wall labels or statements to the press, the images show a side of the conflict that in many circles (particularly the American mainstream media) goes under-reported. That is to be applauded.

With her verbal accompaniment, however, Shibli departs from the stance of a detached photographer reporting a phenomenon — namely, the celebration of suicide bombers who target civilians — and becomes a rhetorical participant. In one email to Flavorwire, she wrote:

To call people who lost their lives as a consequence of the Israeli occupation of Palestine “martyrs,” even the ones who used their own bodies to carry out a bombing attack, is adopting the language commonly used by the Palestinian people. It implies the refusal to use the language and rationale of the powers that support Israeli hegemony, and especially the language of the colonial occupation force itself…It asks to acknowledge the complexity of that situation. Part of that complexity is the fact that at the time of the Second Intifada the Israeli occupation resulted in a feeling among Palestinians that the only remaining way to resist was to use their own body as a weapon and to choose non-military targets.

The term “non-military target” is particularly hard to swallow. No one could blame Shibli for being saddened by the environment in which suicide bombers are raised, but she goes further than that.

Shibli gets on board with the use of the term “martyrs.” Her reference to the victims of suicide bombings as ”non-military targets” recalls the IRA’s euphemism for the Guilford pub attack and other bombings that resulted in deaths that were exclusively civilian. She makes no effort to disconnect the “hegemonic powers” of the Israeli state from civilian victims, even if such victims were children, foreign nationals, or activist opponents of the Israeli occupation. Shibli’s identification with suicide bombers is loose and — with regard to the families that encourage it — sympathetic.

You don’t have to be an arch authoritarian to think that on rare occasions, allowing speech to go completely unguarded can do more to threaten a free and safe society than it does to protect it. One such instance is the incitement to violence, and when Shibli goes beyond reporting the worldview of a suicide bomber to positively using a suicide bomber’s language, she arguably fits that description.

Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Death n° 3), 2012. Chromogenic print, 100 x 66.7 cm.
Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Death n° 3), 2012. Chromogenic print, 100 x 66.7 cm.

The strongest reason to keep Death on display would be that as a curated art show, the photographs go beyond informing the public of the circumstances that produce suicide bombers, and moves viewers to re-evaluate their understanding of the conflict. Of course, this is very subjective, but experience tells me that people who see the show will most likely just become more entrenched in their prejudices. People who are willfully blind to Palestinian victimhood will remain so, responding to the show with a shoulder-shrugging, “Yep, those Palestinians are angry and bellicose. Just as I suspected.” Meanwhile, viewers who come to the exhibition with some ground-level understanding of life in the occupied territories will see Shibli’s images of faceless Israeli soldiers and modest, faintly ragged Palestinian living rooms and concur with her view of the world.

Precisely because they are so unremarkable, I very much doubt that anyone will be moved to violence by Death – so, yes, the series is offensive, but no, it isn’t so dangerous that it should be taken down. To anyone who has occasionally read a newspaper in the last 14 years, the photographs are almost banal. There is nothing in them that shows the viewer something powerful and new in the way that great art does. And Shibli’s words don’t help.

Notes and links

From Wikipedia

Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France is an umbrella organization of French Jewish organizations.
It is the official French affiliate of the World Jewish Congress (WJC)[1], the world-wide umbrella organization of Jewish communities, and of the European Jewish Congress.

CRIF opposes antisemitism and policies that they perceive to be antisemitic. CRIF generally supports Zionist goals and the state of Israel

Ahlam Shibli. Phantom Home

The photographic work of Ahlam Shibli (Palestine, 1970) addresses the contradictory implications of the notion of home. The work deals with the loss of home and the fight against that loss, but also with restrictions and limitations that the idea of home imposes on the individuals. Examples of places where the problematic is encountered include the occupied Palestinian areas; monuments that commemorate members of the French Resistance against the Nazis together with French fighters in the colonial wars against peoples who demanded their own independence; the bodies of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders from Eastern societies; and the communities of children in Polish orphanages.Death, Ahlam Shibli’s latest photographic series especially conceived for this retrospective, shows how Palestinian society preserves the presence of the “martyrs”—in the artist’s own words. Death contains a broad representation of the absent ones through photographs, posters, graves and graffiti displayed as a form of resistance.

The exhibition includes six of the photographic series produced by Ahlam Shibli during the last decade. Most of the works are accompanied by captions assigning each photograph to a specific time and place in an investigative process that often implies long empirical and conversational contact with the subjects in question.

Carles Guerra, Marta Gili, João Fernandes and Isabel Sousa Braga.

Exhibition organised and produced by the Jeu de Paume, Paris, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and the Fundaçao de Serralves-Museu de Arte Contempoânea, Porto.
In partnership with A Nous, ParisART, Time Out Paris.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017