Representation of identity has gotten a little tired of late—there is only so much shock value to yet another exhibition riddled with disembodied figures meant to symbolize the tension between tradition and globalization. ‘Science Faction,’ Larissa Sansour’s solo show at Lawrie Shabibi Gallery addresses the question of Palestinian identity in a bizarrely fresh way by approaching it through a science fiction lens and presenting two series—Nation Estate and Space Exodus. The genre of science fiction is set far into a sterile future that is nostalgic for a simpler past and in this sense plays right into the utopian memory of pre-1948 Palestine that many older Palestinians speak of and yearn for from their temporary homes.
Myrna Ayad, editor of Canvas Magazine, was in public conversation with Larissa Sansour at Lawrie Shabibi on 10 September. The talk started late and attendees perched on wooden benches staring into their phones to avoid the awkwardness of waiting in a quiet room. Although they all seemed to know one another and there was a lot of double and triple cheek kissing going on, I didn’t recognize anyone there and felt a little like the new kid in town on the first day of school. Luckily I’d been emailing back and forth with Sansour for several weeks prior and used the extra time to begin drafting this post.
In parody of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, A Space Exodus imagines an astronaut planting the Palestinian flag on the moon, implying that the impasse of Israel and Palestine is so entrenched that it would be simpler for Palestinians to reach the moon and claim it as their own than it would be to scale the wall and cradle Jerusalem in their arms once again. The series introduces the Palestinauts, spacesuit clad characters who look capable of saving Palestine and fulfill what Sansour explains as “a real need for a Palestinian superhero.” In our correspondence I questioned what is added by contextualizing Palestine in science fiction and she replied, “My work is not meant to be read as a prediction for things to come, but rather as a new platform by which we can address political issues. I am interested in the power of the image and how context changes meaning. So in a sense I am not foreseeing a peaceful Palestinian future, but rather highlighting the thin line between utopia and dystopia and the tension between the two.”
Nation Estate is a short film starring a visibly pregnant Sansour. Stills have been suspended in glass and hung throughout the gallery. The series imagines a future time in which Palestine is oddly replicated in a monstrous high rise overlooking The Dome of The Rock, ironically advertised on a parody of the old time Visit Palestine posters as “Living The High Life.” Each level of the building represents a village in Palestine and Sansour’s purposefully monotone character wheels a suitcase down a clinical hallway towards her newly assigned flat. Palestinian culture has been so thoroughly packaged, documented, and isolated that even their meals are freeze-dried in labeled army tins awaiting Sansour in her new kitchen.
My favorite part of the talk was the detour Sansour took to explain why she chose to feature mloukhieh as one of the dishes eaten in the film. Mloukieh is Palestine’s national dish, a bitter green leaf with the texture of okra that grows only in certain parts of Palestine, mainly near Jericho. She explained that, “with the construction of the [Israeli built separation] wall, it’s become so difficult to get mloukieh in some places that you have to know someone who has it and arrange to meet them like you are trying to score drugs. There is a secret password and everything.” It turns out that Sansour has such an obsession with the leaves and the political symbolism behind sourcing them that she directed a short film on the topic which is available on YouTube.
Science Faction will be at Lawrie Shabibi in Alserkal Avenue through 12 November, 2013. For more information and timings click here
Photo Credits: Images provided courtesy of Larissa Sansour and Lawrie Shabibi