Mobility and Struggle: Palestinian Artists’ Imaginaries of Freedom and Return

By Maryam Griffin
Submitted to Session P4939 (Representations of Struggle and Horizons of Freedom, 2017 Annual Meeting
Colonialism; Cultural Studies; Human Rights;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In this paper, I ask, what is the decolonial potential that artists have identified in varied representations of Palestinian mobility and public transportation? How do their imaginative interpretations function as new optics for recognizing the often-overlooked political relevance of quotidian practices?

To frame the presentation, I first briefly interrogate the historical relationship between mobility and freedom in Palestine, the ways that movement can both effect dispossession and displacement but also can allow the reconnection of fragmented communities. Elsewhere, I have argued that mobility is a central modality through which Israel exercises control over Palestinian life, yet simultaneously has become a means of Palestinian resistance against Israeli settler colonialism. In this talk, I draw from my previous work to outline the conditions of Palestinian mobility and the stakes of its role in the Palestinian struggle as a way to set up the analysis of the artistic works that follows.

In the rest of the paper, I consider artists’ renderings of the roles that freedom of movement might play in decolonizing the Palestinian homeland. To do so, I rely on the work of Palestine-based artists who feature imaginative engagements with mobility and transit to think through the effects of freedom of movement on self-determination and sociality. The projects I examine include Larissa Sansour’s futuristic digital collection, “The Nation (E)state” (2012); Mohammed Abusal’s installation and photography project, “The Gaza Metro” (2011); Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR)’s “Ottoman Railway” (2012); and Tahani Rached’s film, Soraida: A Woman of Palestine (2004) as interpreted by Jane Frere’s sculpture “Return of the Soul: The Nakba Project” (2010). Each of these projects advances different visions for the ways that unfettered mobility can not only realize but in fact redefine the internationally recognized Palestinian right of return as a dynamic process of connecting old and new sites of freedom.