Capitalism and Conservatism: the Transformation of Ramallah in Inass Yassin’s Cinema Waleed Project

By Sascha Crasnow
Submitted to Session P4919 (Contemporary Political Art of the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The changing face of the Palestinian landscape has consistently been critiqued in terms of the expansion of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank, the scarring of the land in the building of Jewish-only roads and the apartheid wall, and the smattering of permanent and floating checkpoints regulating movement between previously fluid spaces. This has been true not only in the political sphere, but also in art produced in Palestine. However, in the post-Second Intifada period, some Palestinian artists have turned their critical eye towards changes inflicted from within the Palestinian communities themselves. Inass Yassin’s Cinema Waleed project examines the transformation of one of the three movie theaters that used to be in Ramallah by the owner of a store that sells knickknacks to tourists. The former cinema was converted from a historic cultural site into a mall catering to a conservative Muslim clientele. The series of works which make up Yassin’s project investigate both the transformation of this space (and those like it) in the name of capitalism and into places of capitalistic purchasing power, as well as the shifting of the cultural scene in Ramallah from a Christian city to one of increasing Muslim conservativism. This paper argues that disillusionment from the failure of Oslo in the post-Second Intifada period has led artists to shift the focus of their critique from that of the Occupation to one that is more self-reflexive—looking inward at Palestinian politics and society. I analyze how Inass Yassin’s Cinema Waleed project reflects increasing concerns among Palestinians living in cities such as Ramallah about the loss of cultural and traditional spaces not at the hands of Israelis, but at the hands of Palestinian capitalism and industrialization, as well as an increasing conservatism in Palestinian culture.