Home Arts As Israel is rocked by protests, a West Bank cultural center seeks to ‘represent the Palestinian struggle’

As Israel is rocked by protests, a West Bank cultural center seeks to ‘represent the Palestinian struggle’

by godlove4241
0 comment

On Al Khalil Road in Bethlehem stands the Dar Yusuf Nasri Jacir for Art and Research (Dar Jacir). It is one of the few cultural spaces still open and active in the West Bank. It’s easy to understand why.

The characteristic sanasil building, its garden shaded by olive trees, overlooks the concrete separation wall built by the Israeli army during the Second Intifada (2000-05). An Israeli checkpoint, manned by military police – part of a network of hundreds of checkpoints that West Bank residents must cross every day – is nearby.

“Dar Jacir is often at the forefront of clashes between young people and the Israeli army,” explains its director, artist Emily Jacir. But Jacir is used to operating in such circumstances; recent and historic Israeli protests against the legal reform plans of Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government have had “no impact” on their work, she says.

Jacir, artist winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2007, and her sister, filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, have been running Dar Jacir since 2018. They lead artist workshops, conferences, screenings and residencies. The property was originally built as a large family home by Jacir’s ancestor, the city registrar al Mukhtar Yusuf Jacir, in the late 1880s during the Ottoman period of Palestine (a reign that lasted 402 years, until 1918). As such, he witnessed a radically changing political landscape in the West Bank. In 1918, British forces took control of Palestine – the start of a new era of occupation. This month marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the British Mandate over Palestine in 1948. The State of Palestine was cut in three under a UN resolution, with Jewish leaders declaring an independent Israeli state .

Defender of Palestinian artists, Emily Jacir won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2007

Photo: Venturelli/WireImage

survival story

Throughout Bethlehem’s long history of occupation, Dar Jacir has also changed hands. Between 1929 and 1980 it was used variously as a prison, military base and school. But, eventually, it was bought out by the Jacir family, and in 2014 Emily Jacir’s father, Yusuf Nasri Jacir, became the sole owner and decided to open the house to the public as a cultural center. The building’s remarkable story of survival, transformation and resistance makes it a poignant place for cultural activities that promote education and dyadic exchanges in the West Bank and the rest of the world.

Dar Jacir is today a synecdoche. “It’s representative of the local and general Palestinian struggle; it acts as an important reminder that Palestinians have free will and continue to produce and engage in creative processes, even in the most difficult of situations,” Jacir said.

Dar Jacir’s workshop and residency program covers visual arts, film, dance, literature and agriculture, and is entirely artist-led. It is funded by donations from many private donors, and its participants and program leaders come from all over the world; it is the only space in the southern West Bank that offers arts education and residency programs to Palestinian and international students and practitioners.

Dar Jacir is an “alternative educational model,” says Jacir, that responds “to the needs of our community, including our neighbors in refugee camps, and individuals who would otherwise not have access to creative and artistic opportunities.” The domestic needs of the center also permeate its program: participants prepare meals and maintain the garden together. “We welcome people,” says Jacir. “The importance of our right of reception is crucial and it is something that the occupying forces are trying to take away from us.”

Palestinian artist Vivien Sansour, a former resident, designed a terrace in Dar Jacir in which she planted jute, a plant used in mloukheyeh stew, a staple of Palestinian cuisine associated with comfort and warmth. During a workshop, the plants were harvested and the resulting mloukheyeh was served in a traveling kitchen. “We encouraged others to share their stories from home,” says Jacir.

Dar Jacir’s program is led by female artists, which is important, according to Jacir, because they understand the oppression of other women, especially those living in the occupied territories. “We share so much with other women facing Kurdistan’s occupation in Western Sahara,” she says. “We have already offered residencies and organized public events for several Palestinian women artists who have never had the opportunity to do so before.” They can, adds Jacir, offer a platform and visibility to an international network of female artists living in comparable conditions.

“We live in a very patriarchal environment, so having a female-led space provides opportunities for women and ways of working for change,” says Jacir. “We are trying to set an example for a younger generation of female artists and encourage them to be leaders who can mediate in this conflict.”

For Jacir herself, who was born and raised in Bethlehem, it was hard earned. “I had a very difficult childhood and was extremely shy and often bullied by other children,” she recalls. “I was too afraid to open my mouth in class to answer questions, even when I knew the answer. I couldn’t speak out loud. I loved art and it was the only place where I felt I could express myself. Things changed when she won a school award for best artist: “It was really meaningful to me at that time.”

In the 1990s Jacir was involved in important projects that significantly shaped the art scene in Ramallah, still the cultural center of the West Bank. She was among the founders of the International Academy of Art Palestine and worked there as a full-time teacher for over a decade. She was also co-curator of the Palestine International Video Festival, launched in 2002, the first event of its kind in Palestine.

The festival, says Jacir, was born out of a need to have a “two-way exchange” and not just focus on “us and our suffering”. “It was leading to myopic vision,” she says.

“I wanted to stop that.” This is also part of the motivation behind the practice of Dar Jacir as an institution. This, she adds, also addresses another problem: “Artists today are too often at the mercy of institutions that don’t really trust them or really care about them,” says- She.

Dar Jacir is a radical institutional model in a difficult context, which hopes to inspire other institutions around the world. But for those who want to understand the work he does and the challenges he faces, insists Jacir, “they have to come and see what is happening here with their own eyes”.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

@2022 – All Right Reserved. Designed and Developed by artworlddaily