Accepted Paper:

Impossible identifications: the politics of unrepresentability in Palestinian contemporary art  


Kiven Strohm (National University of Singapore)

Paper short abstract:

The Palestinian is surrounded by an apparatus of identification that assigns them a place in time and space. "To be continued…", by Sharif Waked suspends this apparatus, where the Palestinian no longer "fits." My paper explores what contemporary art offers ethnography faced with the uncertain.

Paper long abstract:

The Palestinian is surrounded by identity. From the checkpoints across the Occupied Territories and the refugee camps throughout the region, to the blue IDs of Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Palestinian is encircled by an apparatus of identification that assigns them a place in both time and space. The consequences have been a hypersensitivity and disquiet toward identity, an unease that also threatens to become a neurosis. What can the Palestinian do? The video art installation, "To be continued…", by Sharif Waked is a disruption of this apparatus of identification. Waked's "To be continued…" replicates the martyrdom video genre, the final testimony of the suicide bomber. Yet, here the would be suicide bomber reads from 1001 Arabian Nights, a story in which Shahrazad avoids her own execution by each night starting but not continuing a new tale, leaving the King sufficiently intrigued to spare her life for another night. The juxtaposition of the inevitable end implied by the martyr video with the unending reading of 1001 Arabian Nights is reinforced through the looping of the video. What the work achieves is a spatial and temporal suspension in which the Palestinian no longer "fits" within their assigned place of identification. Further, as an event of disidentification, it presents the anthropologist with the unrepresentable. My presentation explores the challenges facing anthropology when confronted with the unrepresentable, and what contemporary visual art can offer ethnography when working with subjects in uncertain times.

Panel W075
The visual in times of uncertainty: experience lived/experience recorded