Qalandiya International and the New Spaces of Palestiian Art

By Elisabeth Friedman
Submitted to Session P4692 (Museums, Place, and Memory, 2016 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
Palestine;
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In an era when international art biennials have become the dominant format for promoting contemporary art on a global scale, it is important to ask what it means to hold an art biennial under the conditions of an ongoing military occupation. My proposed paper explores the unique possibilities, contradictions and dilemmas arising from Palestine’s Qalandiya International Art Biennial. I focus in particular on the changing approaches to space, place and embodiment in the work of contemporary Palestinian artists, curators and cultural institutions. Qalandiya International, which was first inaugurated in 2012 as a protest against the increasing fragmentation and isolation of Palestinian society, provides a multidimensional framework for investigation. Depictions of place and space have been prominent in Palestinian art since the early 20th century, and this concern has dominated Palestinian art since the Nakba. But Palestinian artists are increasingly shifting away from static depictions of place and focusing on performative and participatory practices as a means of generating new kinds of spaces, and embodying them. While these practices are widespread in contemporary art, their meaning both derives from and extends beyond their local context. Likewise, the significance of Qalandiya International extends beyond Palestine. The rise of “biennial culture” has not been without controversy, and critics contend that international art biennials stage the deterritorialized global marketplace as spectacle. In the terms of this critique, biennials are seen as representing one of the last sites of colonial encounter. Yet Qalandiya International lacks the presence of significant global capital and its distorting influence. What possibilities might emerge in its absence? What are some of the lessons to be learned from a biennial that functions as an act of resistance to a colonial situation? What insights from Palestine can be productively brought to bear on the larger debates about biennial culture? The third Biennial will take place in October 2016, and while my paper will focus on the first two editions, I will conclude with reflections from Qalandiya International 2016