The Soldier As Artist: Khaled Jarrar Chisels Away At The Wall

Two boys crouch on either side of the wall that separates the West Bank from Jerusalem. They are smuggling 1,000 loaves of Ka’ak Al Quds (“bread of Jerusalem”) through a hand-bored hole in the concrete. Ramallah-based artist Khaled Jarrar interviews them from behind an unsteady camera. “Pull! Pull!” urges the older boy. Dust from both the flour and the wall is seen as the younger child collects the bread on the other side in a makeshift production line. The zero-shaped egg loaves, dotted with sesame seeds are a symbol of Palestinian culture, which—albeit with a degree of casual playfulness in this scene from his 2013 documentary Infiltrators—Jarrar doggedly works to protect. He is now known as a multimedia artist and filmmaker, but in the past he was a soldier who served as bodyguard to the late Yasser Arafat for more than eight years.

andbags following Khaled Jarrar's performance at Art Bartschi. Courtesy of Art Bartschi, 2015

andbags following Khaled Jarrar’s performance at Art Bartschi. Courtesy of Art Bartschi, 2015

In Live and Work in Palestine, a project launched in 2011, Jarrar affixed an official-looking State of Palestine stamp to around 650 people’s passports in the West Bank and later at a booth at FIAC. His latest sculpture in the ongoing Whole in the Wall series is also titled Ka’ak Al Quds. Using a hammer and chisel, the artist exacted jagged pieces from the wall, broke them down into dust and sand, mixed the remnants with fresh concrete, then poured the mixture into a mold.

Ka'ak Al Quds, Khaled Jarrar. Courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery, 2015

Ka’ak Al Quds, Khaled Jarrar. Courtesy of the artist and Ayyam Gallery, 2015

Each sculpture represents an aspect of Palestinian culture that the wall suffocates: from childhood innocence, with a football that is confiscated every time it sails across the wall into Israel, to family gatherings, and the once accessible bread from Jerusalem. In an email he explained the series this way: “I made an art object from pieces that I cut from the apartheid wall. I try to make an economy by upcycling the wall, and I hope that every [other] Palestinian will cut some concrete until it is demolished.”

Canvases resulting from Khaled Jarrar's May performance at Art Bartschi. Courtesy of the artist and Art Bartschi, 2015

Canvases resulting from Khaled Jarrar’s May performance at Art Bartschi. Courtesy of the artist and Art Bartschi, 2015

6. Khaled Jarrar shooting at paint at Art Bartschi, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist

While we corresponded, Jarrar was grounded in Geneva under court orders following a controversial performance that took place at the May opening of his solo show at Art Bartschi & Cie. Surrounded by a buffer of sandbags, he levelled a pistol at a row of paint cans positioned between blank canvases, then shot 21 times in rapid succession, generating spontaneous abstracts. Guns, particularly in connection with the Middle East, have been overused to the point of monotony. In this case, however, Jarrar—with his military background and a number of bullet fragments still embedded in his thigh—seems entitled to conjure up something of his past by firing the same number of times that are required to lay a soldier to rest. The number 21 also coincides with the age at which Jarrar joined Arafat’s covey with the hopes of paying off art and design school fees.

A Soldier's helmet made of ice at Art Bartschi. Courtesy of the artist and Art Bartschi

A Soldier’s helmet made of ice at Art Bartschi. Courtesy of the artist and Art Bartschi

The show’s mouthful of a title, That Thou Canst Stir A Flower Without Troubling Of A Star, originates in “The Mistress of Vision,” a verse by the late English poet Francis Thompson that acknowledges the way in which every delicate action in nature triggers a chain of unstoppable reactions. In this case, Jarrar grapples with the notion that good soldiers have no freedom and simply follow orders that can cause destruction, while artists have power—even in the face of an occupation—to leverage creation and cohesion. Let’s see if the Swiss government, which has confiscated the gun and the shooting station, and demanded that Jarrar remain in Geneva until he is charged with a crime he has not yet been accused of, agrees.

This article originally appeared on ArtSlant

Correction: An earlier edition of this article erroneously reported that the gun and shooting station from the performance had been confiscated and that Jarrar was awaiting charges from the Swiss police. Since our interview, Jarrar was given clearance to leave Switzerland, though Art Bartschi & Cie is still awaiting news on the case.