Lebanon is home to an estimated 450,000 registered Palestinian refugees, and while difficult to measure, worldwide the Palestinian diaspora is estimated to be over 10 million. In a new exhibition at Marfa’ gallery called “Al Rahhalah” (The Traveler), Saba Innab uses art and architecture to look at the plight of Palestinian refugees, who continue to live in a temporariness that has morphed into an existential struggle.
The exhibition’s installations, sculptures, sketches and poetry start with the artist’s personal memory and extend to a more general idea of dwelling in suspension and waiting. “I’m [part of]a second generation of displaced Palestinians and we are still living this situation. I’m one of millions,” says Innab, an architect, artist and urban researcher who has been exploring the issue of building and dwelling in temporariness through various mediums.
The daughter of Palestinians who left their country for Kuwait and moved again in the aftermath of the Gulf War, Innab reproduces her memory of different places and architectural elements and what they evoke for her, beginning with a large instillation portraying the specific building in which she first lived in Kuwait. In the gallery’s second room more artworks show the deconstruction and reconstruction of the artist’s memory and personal experience. In one sculpture called “When I first met Hauran”, she recalls the first time she had ever heard of the area from a neighbor who had a room with green walls. As a result of this experience, she associates the green color of the room (an architectural element) with the personal memory of that neighbor’s story.
The artist clarifies that even though Palestinian refugees live in physically permanent structures, their meaning is still temporary. “What I’m reclaiming as temporariness is not temporary in its physicality,” she says, adding that the spaces, buildings and architectural elements (like the color of walls and details in the construction) are not temporary, but that for Palestinians, dwelling in them is.
To Innab, the plight of Palestinian refugees is different from, say, that of Syrian refugees, who are also finding temporary dwellings in Lebanon and the world. Innab explains that the situation for Palestinian refugees is politically different from that of other refugees because the Palestinian presence is being repeatedly erased; it’s not just an issue of occupation, but also an existential struggle where temporariness is made permanent. “[The exhibition looks at] temporary dwelling that has mutated into permanence. I’m interested in what it means to live in a mutated temporariness that has the illusion of permanence,” she says. Though the triggers are very personal for the artist she hopes the exhibition can transcend to other situations experienced by its viewers.
“Al Rahhalah” (The Traveler) is open until December 30.