Juan delGado tells Joe McConnell about an exciting ongoing project which started in Palestine 3 years ago.
In 2009, a 3 month residency in Bogota produced a video installation called ‘The Flickering Darkness’. The installation explores the production and distribution of food as a metaphor for social stratification and its inequalities, and also looks at the displacement of people due to internal conflict. Samar Martha, Director of the Palestine Art School, saw the work, and offered me a six-week residency in Nablus
It was an open brief. I gave a talk at Al-Mahatta Gallery - a good starting point - I wanted my work and approach open to challenge from the audience. I came with few preconceptions. My work would be about the journey discovering Nablus – its history and people.
The project developed organically. Nablus is bordered by two mountains, Ebal and Gerzim. I spent seven days walking between these mountains, crossing Nablus on my way. I had no set itinerary, but my journey was structured by random encounters with local people. They would tell me about their lives and often point the way to other people who might interest me. My guiding theme was to find out about freedom of movement, and so I would always inject questions on this into the conversations. I began to form a picture of life under occupation.
On my journeys, I found there were places where I was not allowed to go. There are checkpoints at every exit from the city. The municipality told me not to take risks and they gave me a map of the safe places. This was my first awareness of the limitations on movement in Palestine (for example, people from Nablus can't visit family in other villages – like Jenin 40km away). People there live constantly under curfew and the fear of being randomly detained.
Nidal and Foad, students from Al-Najah University, assisted me with the filming. We filmed in the old city and they showed anxiety for my safety, especially in the evening – a time which I particularly wished to capture. I wanted them to think about what we were observing with the camera and that they should think and analyse before filming. I encouraged them to look with fresh eyes at their familiar surroundings and to explore personal stories.
This is a work which is still in progress. At present, it takes the form of two simultaneous projections. The first has me – the outsider – walking through an empty city and surrounding landscape, with the intention of making you wonder where everyone has gone. The second projection shows close-ups of people talking about what happened to them during the invasion of Nablus in 2003/4. I muted the speech, focussing on the clear trauma they were still experiencing. The suppression of the oral account was intended to reinforce the theme of fragmentation which is the reality of people living under occupation. This drove me to use the poetry of Fadwa Touqan. Her poetic form Zajjal – unaccompanied song poems –has a great similarity to Flamenco with its zejeles. Through this, I discovered a clear cultural link between the West Bank and Andalusia which I am dying to explore. Touqan is a local poet and the chosen poem was written during the invasion.
The experience of creating art in Palestine had a profound effect on me and I am very eager to return to this work. This was the first time that I had lived with people who could see the sea – my own Mediterranean sea – in the near distance every day, without being able to go towards it.
Please have visit http://fluctuatingtime.wordpress.com/author/pechugadepavo/ for more information.