We, the five jury members, are very honoured to be on the jury of the 2018 Young Artist of the Year Award. Over the course of the past 18 years, the YAYA award has become one of the most celebrated and sustainable cultural events in Palestine.
We wish to warmly thank the A. M. Qattan Foundation for inviting us to avail of this welcome opportunity to come to Palestine and for trusting us with this responsible task. We are particularly grateful for the support and assistance of Nisreen Naffa, Lamis Shalaldeh, Mahmoud Abu Hashhash and Yazid Anani.
We wish to especially thank Emily Jacir for her extraordinary efforts in curating this show: for creating a safe, inspiring situation for the artists to come together and share ideas, using this platform to cultivate a sense of community that, we hope, will have long term value for them. Together with Emily, the ten artists have created a carefully considered and coherent exhibition.
We were impressed by the overall high quality of the works and the various dynamic trajectories that could be followed at different points – especially taking into consideration the very different backgrounds of the artists, living and working under very different conditions in Palestine and throughout the Palestinian diaspora.
In a wide variety of media, and through the individual voices of these artists, a set of diverse narratives unfolded, connecting personal stories with the pressing questions of Palestine and the postcolonial, globalised and digitalised world. The works represent distinctive, individual artistic sensibilities, but they also show intriguing points of connection.
We, as jurors, might evaluate and connect those narratives differently, but we want to emphasise – especially those of us who came to Palestine for the first time on this occasion – that we learned a great deal about the situation here from each of these artists.
We were lucky to have been given the chance to talk to seven of them in person in front of their works. Three artists currently living in the diaspora (in the US and Europe) were not able to come to Palestine, but at least we could connect with them via digital communication. This mixture of different possibilities of encounter and conversation is itself an inevitable issue in reflecting on the conditions of contemporary Palestinian art.
Given the impressive range of work that had been shortlisted, it was a challenge to reduce that list to a small number of prize-winners, and needless to say this was not possible without compromise. Although each position has its distinguished qualities and deserves a special mention, we decided to keep to the first, second and third prize places, but we took the liberty of dividing one prize into two.
Making our announcements in reverse order, we award the Third Prize to Ola Zaitoun’s Necrosis. We were moved by the artist’s bravery to put intimate moments of family life and her personal vulnerability on display, and by her ability to find a compelling balance between meticulous execution, using the unforgiving medium of the ball-point pen, and a more destructive impulse to distort and erase the personal features of depicted characters, smudging their faces with gold paint (a medium that carries many cultural and historical associations, from make-up to death masks), and presenting the resulting pictures within commercially commonplace gold frames. The domestic familiarity of the display format is combined with more anxious and unsettling content.
Following a long discussion, the jury decided to give the second prize to two artists who respond to different aspects of Palestinian reality in very different ways and from significantly different positions. Our second prize goes equally to Firas Shehadeh and Dima Srouji.
The work of Firas Shehadeh is based on personal experience as a refugee between Jordan and Palestine. In his absorbing film Never Here Cool Memories, Firas has found a compelling form of audiovisual expression with which to trace experiences of displacement and to contemplate the vexed issue of the right to return, exploring imagined memory and transgenerational trauma through text and images. His filmic style is richly poetic in its means of addressing the political complexities of being a Palestinian refugee. Subtly staging his gallery intervention, Firas puts the viewer in a position to reflect on landscape and its accessibility, and on stillness and movement as conditions that are not always chosen voluntarily.
Dima Srouji has also produced work that is concerned with the representation of the politics of landscape. Although mainly practising within the field of architecture, Dima works in an experimental mode entirely appropriate to the exhibition. Her presentation, entitled The Rule of Superposition, dually focusing on the mapping of the city of Jerusalem and its archaeological excavation, is an exploration of the role of the map in the assertion of colonial power. Her striking minimal structure – combining survey models of sites in Jerusalem – is an inventive sculptural attempt to interrogate cartographic politics and regimes of visibility, inviting us to both occupy the raised viewing position of the coloniser while also studying landscape ‘from below’.
In choosing the first prize for the 2018 YAYA award, there was considerable discussion – but our choice of winner is one who, in different ways, impressed all of the jury members. The winner of the 2018 prize is Safaa Khateeb. Safaa’s project, The Braids Rebellion, was commended by the judges for both its technical and conceptual sophistication. It is exceptional, striking work, employing the unusual practice of scan photography in a rigorous and challenging manner. Principally, however, it was Safaa’s profound and affecting achievement in creating an oblique form of aesthetic and political representation that impressed the jury. By picturing braids of hair donated to a breast cancer campaign by incarcerated Palestinian women (in February 2017), Safaa focused on an act of human generosity and a form of solidarity between prison life and the outside world. The resulting photographic installation has a concentrated, pared-back aesthetic intensity that is nonetheless powerful in its evocation of resistance and empowerment.
Safaa is to be congratulated for her outstanding contribution to YAYA 2018 – and we wish to congratulate all four of the prize-winners in the belief that the YAYA serves as both a symbolic and a practical tool of empowerment at the beginning of their careers. We strongly believe, however, that participation in the exhibition We Shall Be Monsters is a great, empowering achievement for everyone involved – and we keenly look forward to following the future endeavours of all ten participating artists.
Sandi Hilal, Declan Long, Eva Scharrer, Ahlam Shibli, Jorge Tacla