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Palestinian Artist Wins Guggenheim/Hugo Boss Award

Emily Jacir, Hugo Boss/Guggenheim winner

Emily Jacir, Hugo Boss/Guggenheim winner (Sarah Shatz)

The Guggenheim Museum announced that Palestinian artist, Emily Jacir has won this year’s prestigious Hugo Boss Award:

Emily Jacir, the 37-year-old artist of Palestinian descent…has won this year’s Hugo Boss Prize.

The $100,000 award, established in 1996 by the Guggenheim Museum and named for the German men’s wear company that sponsors it, is given every two years for significant achievement in contemporary art…

Ms. Jacir, who divides her time between Ramallah…and New York, won the Golden Lion Award…at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Her work there, a room-size installation in the Italian pavilion, documented the assassination of the Palestinian intellectual Wael Zwaiter by Israeli agents in Rome in 1972 for what they believed was his role in the massacre of Israeli athletes at that year’s Summer Olympics.** Using photographs, objects, texts and interviews, she created a narrative that reflects on her own anguish over the Middle East.

The Hugo Boss Award jurors had this to say about her work:

“Emily Jacir’s rigorous conceptual practice—comprising photography, video, performance, and installation-based work—bears witness to a culture torn by war and displacement. As a member of the Palestinian diaspora, she comments on issues of mobility (or the lack thereof), border crises, and historical amnesia through projects that unearth individual narratives and collective experiences. Jacir combines the roles of archivist, activist, and poet to create poignant and memorable works of art that are at once intensely personal and deeply political. It is the refined sophistication of Jacir’s art and the relevance of her concerns—both global and local—in a time of war, transnationalism, and mass migration that led us to award her the 2008 Hugo Boss Prize.”

This is a description of another work of hers which sounds interesting and provocative:

Where We Come From…was recently acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Jacir asked Palestinians around the world: “If I could do something for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?” She then documented herself fulfilling the requests for people who are prohibited entry into their homeland and/or restricted from movement within it. She visited a mother’s grave, played soccer with a boy in Haifa, and visited a student’s family in Gaza because he is prevented from traveling home while at school in the West Bank.

And another fascinating project:

Crossing Surda (A Record Of Going To And From Work), which was inspired by Israeli soldiers throwing her passport in the mud and holding a gun to her temple at a checkpoint between Ramallah and Birzeit University, and involved her cutting a hole in the bottom of her handbag and stealthily filming her trek across the same terrain, to and from teaching classes, as a generative gesture of revenge…

I’ve featured this story for two reasons: one, that I wish to highlight anyone, whether Jewish or Muslim; Israeli Jew or Palestinian who achieves distinction working for peace and justice for either or both peoples; two, Palestinians, including their artists, generally labor in obscurity.  For those of us who read the N.Y. Times daily (you can fill in the name of your own daily paper), why hasn’t Ethan Bronner done a feature story about Jacir, whose work has earned numerous international art awards?  Why when we think of the word “Palestinian,” do we not even think of the word “artist?”  And isn’t this another symptom of the cultural impoverishment foisted upon us by this age-old conflict?

If you live in or near New York, the Guggenheim will host a show of Jacir’s work from February 6-April 15th.  The National has featured a fine profile of Jacir.

**Actually, the Mossad’s “Wrath of God” operation was supposedly intended to gun down the Palestinians who planned and executed the Munich Olympic massacre.  But many of the assassinated victims were Palestinian artists and intellectuals who had nothing to do with Munich.  While the Mossad claims Zwaiter was involved, Palestinians who knew him claimed he was “energetically against terrorism.”


{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Warren November 16, 2008, 9:48 PM

    Thanks for highlighting this, Richard. It’s very welcome news to see a Palestinian artist recognized like this by one of our landmark institutions.

  • John Dickerson November 18, 2008, 8:59 PM

    According to Golda Meir, there is no such thing as a Palestinian!

  • jackie cox November 22, 2008, 9:45 PM

    [Off-topic comment deleted]

  • jackie cox November 22, 2008, 9:52 PM

    [comment deleted]

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