Reflect and resist: Palestinians are making art out of adversity

Ahdaf Soueif, organiser of the Palestine festival of literature in The Guardian:

Ahdaf Leaning against padded walls in a darkened room we eavesdrop on an argument: “the elite think they can get independence without resistance – by collaboration -”

“What's wrong with being normal? Normality as a form of resistance -”

“What is normal?”

“You know, sometimes I forget that we're under occupation . . .”

Last week I heard the same phrases in Ramallah. Today, we're listening to them at the Venice biennale, in Ramallah Syndrome, a sound installation by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti.

Three biennales ago, in 2003, Bethlehem-born Hilal and her husband, Petti, provided the exhibition with Stateless Nation: a number of giant passports that you came upon, one by one, in the pavilions of different states. The passports were issued by different authorities, but the bearer's place of birth was always Palestine. Now I'm struck by the converse: the number of people born in different parts of the world who identify themselves and act as Palestinians. And this year the Palestinians have – well, not a pavilion, but a space of their own. As one of the 44 “Collateral Events” of the 53rd biennale, they are housed – courtesy of the City of Venice – in the former Convento dei Santi Cosma e Damiano.

A few metres away from Ramallah Syndrome, on a spotlit patch of floor, tiny figures float, meet and merge, reproduce, splinter, vanish; OK, hit, hit but don't run is an animation by Shadi Habib Allah that aims, he says, to create a “tension between the mechanisation of nature and the naturalisation of the mechanical”. It makes you think of amoebas, of cells under microscopes. You can follow a meandering train of thought to the Palestinian condition if you like. But you don't have to. The point about the art on show here is that it both resists the Israeli project for Palestine and resists being seen only in terms of resistance.

More here. (I met the incredible Ms. Ahdaf Soueif in Chicago and was deeply impressed by her exquisite sensitivity and sharp intellect. I highly recommend her beautifully crafted and extremely moving novel, The Map of Love. It really is about love.)