Monday, 11 January 2016

RESEARCHING CONTEMPORARY ART: KHALED JARRAR'S VOLLEYBALL

RESEARCH COLUMN

BY: CAMILLE-MARY SHARP

For this column, I am excited to share research I conducted last semester on Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar’s Volleyball sculpture, which was featured in the Aga Khan Museum’s recently closed Home Ground: Contemporary Art from the Barjeel Art Foundation exhibition. The incredibly relevant exhibition addressed issues of place, identity, and mobility during times of increasingly precarious social and political circumstances and fragile spatial boundaries.

In researching this object—a 2012 concrete volleyball that is part of a broader series of sport-related sculptures—I began with some of the following questions: How is this object’s meaning different in various social and physical spheres? What is the artist’s intent behind the work? Does it differ from the current interpretation of the object? I found myself struggling to find the multiple stories associated with this contemporary artwork, already deliberately loaded with a specific narrative. I thought: should contemporary art be researched in the same way as historical artefacts? Does the artist’s intent not surpass all other interpretations? Here, I offer a brief profile of this fascinating object and hope that you can help me answer some of these questions in the comments section!

Photo source: Ayyam Gallery

THE OBJECT

Spanning 20 cm in diameter, Jarrar’s sculpture looks exactly like a real volleyball. This is because he uses real sporting equipment to create his work. Jarrar obtains the sculpture’s material by illegally carving out pieces of the West Bank Separation Wall (an alleged security barrier built by the Israeli state separating Israeli and Palestinian territories) in areas devoid of cameras and Israeli guards. He then smashes the pieces of concrete and mixes them into a cement paste, achieving the realistic aesthetic of his works by pouring the cement into deflated balls which he then peels off when the material has hardened. The artist was inspired by a football pitch that was destroyed by the construction of the wall in Ramallah, Palestine. His sculpture thus alludes to the social impacts of the wall on people, especially on children and their ability to play.

The artist with Football. Retrieved from Art Radar.

THE CONTEXT

The wall separating Israeli and Palestinian territories is synonymous with the region’s ongoing conflict. In carving out pieces of the illegally-constructed wall, Jarrar makes a clear statement of defiance to Israel’s oppressive policies. Though the work in question is sculptural, Jarrar’s work is borderline performative due to the nature of his material-sourcing process. It is not the first time Jarrar has blurred this line: in 2007, his photography series At the Checkpoint was hung at various local military checkpoints while he and other Israeli and Palestinian activists documented the event and attempted to create dialogue with Israeli soldiers (Hochberg 2015).

What I find most interesting about Jarrar’s work is that it is very much defined by its material. Depending on how viewers perceive the Separation Wall, they might perceive Volleyball differently. In this context, location and ethnonational identity can influence how various audiences may respond to the work. For example, the wall is widely visible on Palestinian territory, while it is nearly invisible on the Israeli side. For Gil Z. Hochberg (2015), the wall is a way “to militarize the local terrain through gaze” (p. 27), and is used to both conceal and surveil. From an Israeli perspective, the wall can be seen as a necessary and protective border, whereas Palestinians can view it as an oppressive border and a spectacle of power (Hochberg 2015).

CONCLUSION

As you can tell, this artwork is extremely loaded politically, socially, and economically. When researching contemporary art, how should we negotiate the artist’s intent, the exhibition’s framework, and the audience’s interpretation? Conducting curatorial research on a work of art that is already being interpreted in a museum space can be challenging. The object’s story is fragmented, narrated by the artist, the curator, and the cultural, social and political contexts in which it was created—not to mention the researcher’s own bias. As art historian Dr Simon Faulkner remarks, Jarrar’s works are perhaps not politically prescriptive; they raise more questions than they provide answers.


Works cited:

Ayyam Gallery. Khaled Jarrar. Retrieved from http://www.ayyamgallery.com/artists/khaled-
jarrar/bio

Faulkner, Simon. (2011 July 10). Contesting the antiborder condition: Khaled Jarrar’s Live and Work in Palestine project [Web log post]. Retrieved from https:// simonsteachingblog.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/contesting-the-antiborder- condition- khaled-jarrar%E2%80%99s-live-and-work-in-palestine-project/

Hochberg, Gil Z. (2015). Visual occupations: Violence and visibility in a conflict zone. Retrieved from http://read.dukeupress.edu.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/content/visual-occupations

Sender, Hannah. (2013 July 7). “Putting me in jail would be their biggest mistake” – Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar talks to Art Radar. Retrieved from http://artradarjournal.com/ 2013/07/07/putting-me-in-jail-would-be-their-biggest-mistake-palestinian-artist-khaled- jarrar-talks-to-art-radar/

United Nations. (2003). In day-long security council meeting, Palestine observer says Israeli security wall involves de facto annexation of occupied land. Retrieved from http:// www.un.org/press/en/2003/sc7895.doc.htm


*For more information about Jarrar’s At the Checkpoint (2007) series, see:
Apter, E. (2014). Translation at the checkpoint. Journal of Postcolonial writing, 50(1).


Editor's note: Camille-Mary is a second-year Master of Museum Studies candidate, with a History BA from York University's Glendon College. Her research interests include the social work of museums and censorship in cultural institutions. When she is not doing school work, she can be found working in a horse barn just outside of the city or running after her dog on the Bruce Trail.

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