Rebels? Freedom fighters? Terrorists? The question arises not only in Syria.
An exhibition at the Jeu de Paume, Paris’s premier photography museum, has drawn the ire of Jewish organizations. They accuse the museum of glorifying Palestinian suicide bombers.
On June 16, about 30 demonstrators waving Israeli flags protested against the show.
The Jeu de Paume has denied the accusation and warned it will take legal action against any threats or disruptions.
The bone of contention is “Phantom Home,” a show devoted to Ahlam Shibli, an Israeli-Arab photographer who defines herself as a “Palestinian from Israel.” Shibli, who lives in Haifa, openly sympathizes with the Palestinian cause.
A good half of the exhibition deals with her favorite subject.
“Trackers,” a series of photographs taken in 2005, portrays Palestinians of Bedouin descent who are serving as volunteers in the Israeli army. Stopping short of denouncing them as traitors, Shibli’s captions suggest that, by joining the colonizers, they have given up their identity.
The most controversial section, entitled “Death,” documents the various ways in which the Palestinians who lost their lives during the Second Intifada, the 2000-2005 West Bank uprising, are commemorated in the refugee camps in and around Nablus.
Tombstones, posters, paintings, photos and other memorabilia mourn the “martyrs” who gave their lives for the liberation of their homeland.
Shibli doesn’t mince words: Her captions claim that 500 residents of Nablus were killed, more than 3,000 injured and some 60 houses destroyed.
Suicide bombings are labeled “martyrdom operations.”
To dismiss the series as worthless propaganda would be a mistake. Shibli is a talented photographer whose work has been seen at the Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and other prestigious venues.
Her biggest talent, though, may be that of a provocateur who knows how to ask unpleasant questions.
In another section of the show titled “Trauma,” she records how the town of Tulle in southern France commemorates the worst moment in its history.
On June 9, 1944, 99 men were hanged from balconies, trees and lamp posts by the SS division “Das Reich” in reprisal for attacks by the French Resistance.
Why is it, a wall text asks, that “the same population, in certain cases even the same individuals, who resisted occupation by the Germans and suffered from their atrocities, waged colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria a few years later against peoples who, in their turn, claimed independence?”
In a less political part of the exhibition, Shibli portrays gays and lesbians from various Muslim countries who have left their birthplace to live more openly in Europe and Israel.
Normally, the Jeu de Paume is a quiet place with few visitors. Thanks to the uproar, Shibli’s show may turn out to be a blockbuster.
“Phantom Home”, which is supported by Neuflize Vie, runs through Sept. 1 and will then travel to the Fundacao de Serralves in Porto, Portugal, where it will be on view from Nov. 15 to Feb. 9, 2014. Information: http://www.jeudepaume.org.
(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on U.K. theater, Scott Reyburn on the art market, Jason Harper on cars, Rich Jaroslovsky on technology and Lance Esplund on art.