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A Conversation with Fida Touma, Deputy Director General of the A.M. Qattan Foundation, on the Occasion of the Fourth Qalandiya International, Palestine, by James Scarborough

INTRODUCTION

The fourth Qalandiya International (QI) will take place from October 3rd - October 30th. Also known as the Palestine Biennial, it’s the largest contemporary art event in Palestine. This year's QI examines the theme of Solidarity. Exhibitions and programs will take place throughout the country. Sites include Jerusalem, Gaza, Ramallah, Al Bireh, Birzeit, and several Palestinian villages. It will feature the work of dozens of Palestinian and international artists (See below). Solidarity-themed events will also occur in New York, Cape Town, and Beijing.

Everything about the QI is significant. Qalandiya refers to a notorious West Bank checkpoint. It also refers to life in pre-Occupation Palestine. Since its founding in 2012, QI has focused more on collectives than individuals. It serves as an act of defiance in response to oppressive and Occupation events. Its aim is two-fold. It encourages public dialogue. These dialogues present an undistorted image of Palestine to the rest of the world. It also allows Palestinians to examine their cultural heritage and its place in world culture.

Qi 2018 is a collaboration between 9 art and cultural organizations:

Qattan Foundation, Ramallah

Al Hoash – Palestinian Art Court, Jerusalem

Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Jerusalem

Eltiqa Group, Gaza

Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah

Ramallah Municipality

RIWAQ – Center for Architectural Conservation, Al-Bireh

Shababek for Contemporary Art, Gaza

The Palestinian Museum, Birzeit

Qalandiya International IV in Numbers:

9 partners

8 exhibitions

41 events in Palestine

19 events abroad (New York, San Francisco, Olympia (Washington), Cape Town, Doha, Dusseldorf and Swansea)

Below follows a conversation with Fida Touma, the Deputy Director General of the A.M. Qattan FoundationIn cooperation with the Birzeit University Museum, the Foundation has co-curated the exhibition Lydda - A Garden Disremembered. On display at the Birzeit University Museum, it runs until January 15, 2019.

The Cultural Committee includes: Vera Tamari, Iyad Issa, Amer Shomali, Ziad Haj Ali, Yazid Anani, and Abed Alrahman Shabaneh.

Researchers include:  Hadeel Yaqoup, Manal Massalha, Razan Khalaf, and Tareq Khalaf.

Featured artists include: Alexandra Brunt, Luca Vanello, Mahdi Baraghithi, Maria Kaik, May Herbawe, and Tina Willgren.

Other interviewees for this year’s QI will include:

Rachel Dedman, curator of the Labour of Love exhibition

Eltiqa & Shababek, co-curators of the Toward Hope exhibition

Reem Shadid and Yazan Khalili, co-curators of the Debt exhibition

..........

JS: How did the Foundation become involved with the QI in 2012?

FT: The idea was born in 2012 through the cooperation of four institutions working fully or partially in the visual arts. They met to discuss organising a joint activity to unite their energies and resources in a world-class festival focusing on the visual arts of Palestine.

Qattan Foundation, Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, Riwaq Center for Architectural Conservation, the Palestinian Art Court  Al-Hoash Gallery met to pool their resources and prepare plans with parallel productions and activities to culminate into a festival focusing on visual art in Palestine. Later, other institutions joined the effort for the First Qalandia International, namely: Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, the International Art Academy Palestine and The House of Culture and Art, Nazareth.

Since then, Qattan Foundation committed to an active role in organising Qi, and its Young Artist of the Year (YAYA) exhibition organised by AMQF’s Culture and Arts programme has become a major biennale within Qi. This year, AMQF’s Public Programme organises the :”Cities Exhibition 6: Lydda, A Garden Disremembered”, and YAYA 2018 exhibition will be organised separately in a different date.

JS: This year’s theme of Solidarity suggests banding together around shared interests and goals. For this year’s QI, what are those interests and goals? Why are they important now?

FT: Qalandia International is a biannual festival; every edition discusses an issue of direct concern to Palestine and issues we wish to more profoundly discuss.

The question “which society do we want?” was raised for this edition. For years, we believed that we shared societal values and that a collective spirit enabled Palestinian society to resist and survive. But, realistically speaking, we are circling the drain because of neoliberal and fundamental polarisation. It is time to surrender to fate and decline the socio-political project we found ourselves in.

Solidarity, then, appears central as a broad concept to discuss social issues. Solidarity was a major component of the liberation struggle against colonial powers in both Palestine and the world. Palestine was at the heart of this struggle, but the very concept faced transformations because of internal changes in Palestine and other countries along with the transformation of world powers, their alliances and ideologies that produced solidarity practices. Solidarity as an idea among peoples under global transformation raises questions about how this theme was transformed and how it is expressed now. This is also no doubt linked to the broader social question.

We started working on the “Solidarity” theme last year with our partners, aiming towards a distinctive version of Qi, that will be critical to the past editions. We didn’t want to have last minute exhibitions like the previous years that tackled the theme of QI superficially. We wanted a collective approach. To do so, we decided last year to follow a more solid methodological approach to our art practice by dividing our work into 3 main stages: Researching Solidarity, Community Engagement and Exhibition. However, we found out eventually that many partners didn’t follow the methodology in place due to diverse reasons. Unfortunately, we went back to square zero where each organisation decided to follow its own approach the way they see fit. Sometime the visual art scene manages to escape its incompetences by transforming them into art projects.

JS: How do you define Solidarity? A political strategy? A cultural practice? A religious position? A social manifesto? All of these? Something else?

There is no pre-set definition to “Solidarity.” It is a broad and ambiguous concept and it can be interpreted historically and at the present in multiple ways depending on the conditions and particularity of its deduction. Therefore, we decided that our input in this edition of QI is a “Manifesto on Solidarity” that amalgamates definitions and practices of solidarity from different social groups, fields of work and study, age, gender, etc. We thought that the manifesto is a starting point to bring us all closer to the definition of Solidarity. This is a good fertile ground for future work on solidarity.

JS: From an institutional point of view, how does Solidarity, the theme of this year’s QI, reflect the Foundation’s vision statement of “a just, free, enlightened, and tolerant society with an active global presence, one that embraces dialogue and produces knowledge, art and literature.”?

FT: We can look at this on two levels:
- Our own intervention (Manifesto & the Cities’ exhibition) as being a platform of dialogue and research, whereby individuals, collectives, artists and researchers actively work, choosing their own means, on dissecting the theme of solidarity and producing their own views and answers to the manifestation of solidarity.

- On overarching level of cooperation among the different organizations being part of QI for this year’s and the years before it. QI, in form, is an act of camaraderie among actors in the visual arts field that pools resources, being conceptual financial or human, to bring about new forms of expression and ideas that is in conversation with both local audiences and international ones.

JS: How does Solidarity manifest itself in terms of art? Can Solidarity-informed art lead to concerted action? How?

FT: We do not claim a definition of solidarity, neither we want to appear like we enforce or lean towards one. Art is a tool to dismantle inherited structures and concepts, it allows us to revisit the term of solidarity and look at it in different and new scopes. This exercise helps people to find new ways to relate to solidarity, its definition and agency in society, rather than looking at art as a narrow causality for revolutionary action. Revolution is an amassing of social and political action aimed at rigorous change. Arts might be a catalyst for movement and change but is not necessarily a call for such things.

JS: How would you trace the evolution of Solidarity with respect to the history of Palestine? Is it a linear evolution? Why or why not?

FT: The notion of ‘solidarity’ has been synchronic with the history of the Palestinian struggle against successive colonial structures and regimes, although not always in perfect tandem with it. The ethos and practices of ‘solidarity’ have been through a plethora of delineations, spanning local particularities and/or global networks and alliances.

The spectrum of the contradictory practices of ‘solidarity’ has ranged from being closely affiliated at certain times to extreme religious ideals and idioms, towards more global socialist manifestoes during specific epochs, while also being unremittingly hinged upon Pan-Arab idealism. These were not, however, the only practices of ‘solidarity’ in Palestine. Historically, other forms have fluctuated and come and gone, based on either ideologies, cultural and humanitarian idioms, or social and tribal rapports, etc.

JS: Do other societies or cultures face the same challenges that Palestine faces?

FT: A quick historic research would answer “yes” to this question.

JS: Institutionally, artistically, politically, what are optimal outcomes for Palestinian Solidarity?

FT: We do not look at art as a space for truths or mere causality. Art does not offer a theory on how society functions, or what is a society, but it offers lenses to how we can look at the world, and ways to criticize it.

Solidarity, as a question and as an actual practice, was always present throughout all the previous versions of Qalandia International as well. Each time the partners and organizers sat around the table, as art institutions and groups with varied resources and capacities, the question of solidarity and internal reciprocal support would always impose itself as an instrument to confront the various challenges towards moving forward with this art event that gained increasing attention locally and internationally. Agreement on the objective, belief in the importance of the event, and the feeling of joint responsibility trigger this feeling and this mode of operation. Therefore, this experience in itself began to leave its imprints on the mode of operation of these institutions and started to accumulate an experience that is worthy of reflection.

However, the dedication of this version of QI to the question of solidarity would steer all the capacities and resources towards reflection on this topic at multiple levels: artistic, institutional, societal, and political. In fact, while we do not have specific expectations when it comes to the aspired outcomes of this process, yet posing this question now, and here in Palestine, would undoubtedly have many multi-layered reverberations at the artists and art institutions’ levels, as well as the community of art, the society, and beyond it.

We are hopeful, in the first place, that the way we work together within the cultural sector would be reconsidered, and that this version will be the launching pad for new methods, and genuine partnerships here and abroad. A glance at the different parties around the world expressing readiness to participate in this version of QI through supporting events as an act of solidarity, alludes undoubtedly to a sort of nostalgia that goes beyond Palestine to that era when the world witnessed revolutionary forms of solidarity. Furthermore, raising this question now in our world that grew numb with the large number of disasters, a primary preoccupation with very local issues, and a lifestyle that revolves around consumption preventing attention to other peoples’ issues and problems, would have new implications regarding the way through which these new forms of solidarity can be realized at this moment in time.

Of course, raising the question here in Palestine charges it with the possible political meanings crucial for a people suffering from colonialism and left with very little tools to change their political reality, who began to pin a lot of their hopes on the expanding number of supporters for the Palestinian rights around the world. This is a slow, long, and complex process and any acceleration of its pace, particularly in view of the current situation, is a very critical matter.

Fida Touma and Shatha Safi @ Qi Press Conf at KSCC 2 Oct 2018Fida Touma and Shatha Safi

Manifesto session 1Manifesto session 1

Manifesto session 2Manifesto session 2

Manifesto session 3Manifesto session 3

Cities Exhibition6 Lydda- A Garden Di-sremembered 1Cities exhibition 6 Lydda - A Garden Disremembered 

A visionary image of Lydda in my imagination since childhood 2018 cities exhibtion 6 Lydda A-Garden Disremembered 1

A visionary image of Lydda in my imagination since childhood, 2018, Cities exhibition 6 Lydda - A Garden Disremembered

Growth Motion by Alexandra Brunt citis exhibtion6 Lydda A-Garden Disremembered 1Growth Motion by Alexandra Brunt Cities exhibition 6 Lydda - A Garden Disremembered 1

Pause  by Luca Navello for cities exhibtion Lydd A-Garden Disremembered 1Pause, by Luca Navello for Cities exhibition Lydda - A Garden Disremembered

Cities Exhibition6 Lydda- A Garden Di-sremembered 2Cities exhibition 6 Lydda - A Garden Disremembered

Cities Exhibition6 Lydda- A Garden Di-sremembered 3Cities exhibition 6 Lydda - A Garden Disremembered 

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