The Secret Stairs… An Exhibition and Performance a Year after Tales, Imagination and Experimental Performances were Collected
Tales collected by artists Fidaa Ataya and Dalal Odeh on their tours around many cities and villages across Palestine cover the wall in the first room at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre in Ramallah. In the inaugural ceremony of The Secret Stairs, an exhibition and performance, both artists selected some of these tales to tell the audience in a live performance.
The exhibition is organised following a year of difference milestones, which the project went through. These included the collection of tales, research, and experimental performances.
Explaining why The Secret Stairs was selected as an object of research, Odeh said: “We thought that The Secret Stairs features a combination of reality and imagination. We have drawn a link between reality and imagination by means of several activities in four areas. We collected tales and then moved on to the stage of imagination. With the aid of artists, we met with young men and women in different areas and organised a set of writing and painting activities. Later, we conducted experimental performances in various venues. The end result was the idea of this exhibition.”
Both the A. M. Qattan Foundation (AMQF) and the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre have initiated the idea of Wednesdays at Sakakini, a joint collaborative residency programme. Abed Al-Rahman Shabaneh, Assistant Curator at the AMQF, explained: “At first, we looked for active collectives in the field of culture and regardless of their mode of operation. We provided these collectives with spaces at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre every Wednesday in the course of the year. Collectives organise events and workshops in order to raise questions that promote the deconstruction of, and critically examine, common themes.”
About Wednesdays at Sakakini, Alhareth Rayan, Programme Manager at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, stated: “Initially, the residency programme hosted three collectives: Basta Theatre, Hakaya, and Talfit for Arts and Culture. These used to meet together. It was not an easy process, not only for the collectives, but also for the institutions. It was difficult to decide on a common theme. A while later, the collectives succeeded after they had visited the Talfit village and came up with the research question, namely The Secret Stairs.”
The Secret Stairs is an architectural detail of heritage houses. It was used as a hidden staircase to climb to the roof. The collective noticed and started to do research on the secret staircase, exploring its underlying meaning.
The exhibition runs through 29 March 2018 at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre. The second room features models of mental maps, which both curators painted on their tours in Hebron, Nablus, Jerusalem, and Kafr Rumman in Tulkarem.
In another room, the curators impersonated the character of Umm Ziad, whom they met in an experimental performance at the nursing home in Ramallah. They described her as the “woman who has exposed all the secrets she had kept until she was 80 years of age and got Alzheimer. She speaks spontaneously, beautifully and quietly.”
The last room includes a collection of paintings, which children produced in research workshops. These reflect children’s perceptions of the tales and imaginations of the secret stairs. It also showcases a documentary booklet on the stages of work as well as post cards of photos taken during research tours.
Dina Bureimish, a visitor to the exhibition, said: “The idea of the exhibition itself provokes questions. I like the children’s paintings. At first glance, they seem to be simple, but are embedded with ideas that are not that simple.”
Abdul Rahman Othman, a visitor from the Kafr Rumman town, also said: “The activities implemented with children in the village were so rich and opened up many horizons for them. Of particular importance, events and activities should be organised in largely forgotten villages.”
Wednesdays at Sakakini aims at stimulating and encouraging interdisciplinary collectives to propose concepts, plans, and activities with a community dimension.
Yazid Anani, Director of the AMQF Public Programme, said: “The residency programme views ‘income generation’ as an indispensable component of rethinking cultural production and prevalent consumerist cultural practices. The reason is not only limited to declining cultural resources, but is also triggered by the growing phenomenon of spending the funds of local and international donors without thinking of sustainable activities and programmes.”