Photo credit: Omar Shala, “Horses” from Gaza Zoo project, 2020, photography
للنسخة العربية: اضغط هنا*
“I met her at one of the ‘revolution’ offices, and since I had nothing to do, I thought to have a relationship with her...” is how the second movement of Rasmi Abu Ali’s short story ‘Qit Maqsous al-Sharibain Ismahu Rayyes’ (A Cat with Clipped Whiskers called Rayyes) begins. The story, which appeared in Al-Adab magazine in 1977, depicts a brief relationship between a Palestinian, whose official profession is ‘resistance fighter’, as revealed in his identification papers at a checkpoint, a Swiss journalist and a street cat. The relationship evolves in Beirut in the 1970s during the peak of the Palestinian ‘revolution’, where the latter and its terminology, and all the Palestinian ‘work tools’, appear as a dull background. The story focused on the multiple complex dimensions of a revolutionary character, including their silly, nihilistic and absurd behaviours, and subsequently shattering the readymade idealistic, almost caricature-like depictions in literature at the time of the revolutionary as someone who is serious and always ready to carry on the anti-colonial struggle and fight. The story, in that sense, revolutionised the image of the revolutionary and the revolution as such, by establishing as its base human desires and life itself.
For Abu Ali, writing the story was, in part, an attempt to correct the ‘revolution’ in politics, thought and culture by turning the attention to the margins of that revolution, which the revolutionaries disavowed and refused to recognise. The very publication of the story in Al-Adab, a Lebanese magazine, indicates that there were works that could not be welcomed into the designated Palestinian revolutionary culture of that period. Initially, Abu Ali submitted the story to the Palestinian Affairs magazine, to its editor-in-chief Mahmoud Darwish, who expressed his admiration for the text, saying it was one of the ten most beautiful short stories he had read in his life but that he could not publish it in a serious political magazine like Palestinian Affairs.
Abu Ali’s attempts to recognise and celebrate the marginal were not exhausted. Two years after the publication of ‘Qit Maqsous al-Sharibain’, he issued, with Tunisian writer Safi Said, The Funerary Manifesto No. 0 for Art, Work and Play in an effort to return to the ‘Communist Dream’ and to Marx as a poet. This was followed by launching the magazine Al-Rasif 81 (Sidewalk 81) with Palestinian poet Ali Fouda and other Arab writers and poets, who called themselves al-Rasifiyeen or the ‘sidewalkers’. In general, al-Rasifiyeen aspired to revolutionise the revolution through culture; they wanted to start a cultural and intellectual protest movement on the margins of the Palestinian struggle and liberation organisations which, in the words of Abu Ali “were governed by a revolutionary bureaucracy, similar to the bureaucracies of Arab regimes”. In a later testimonial on his motives behind creating Rasif 81 and eventually turning to poetry, Abu Ali writes:
I had a creative plan; to try and shatter the Palestinian creative superstructure, and by doing so, to open the way to another revolutionary culture that I aspired to. At that time I considered the Palestinian culture, and thus the Palestinian behavior, to be very conservative. I wanted to revolutionize the revolution. And here the role of poetry emerged as a daily tactical fast weapon; more like a creative guerrilla war of ‘Hit and Run!’ I was waging a cultural guerrilla war with short poems...
I also believed in the theory of ‘chain detonation’ by means of using different shocking words that kind of created a detonation in the reader’s mind, and subsequently led to a change in reality.
On the whole, Abu Ali continued to define Rasif 81 as “the movement of the marginalized; those who are marginalized in the present, or who will be marginalized in the future,” noting that “the sidewalk is, to some extent, widening day after day”. (As a matter of fact, he announced in the first issue of the magazine that “there is no distance between me and the sidewalk, for I am the sidewalk”).
The first issue of Rasif 81 was generally received with excitement in the literary and cultural circles in Beirut. Refraining from naming an editor-in-chief made readers also realise that this was a revolutionary magazine, yet with a vocabulary and a style different from the ones they are familiar with. That first issue thus generated a new semi avant-garde mood. However, the second issue was barely published when the Israeli military began its invasion of Beirut in 1982. Ali Fouda was killed in a shelling, and the rest of those behind the magazine were scattered, leading it to be discontinued. Abu Ali himself eventually reached Amman, where he continued to inhabit and guard the margins until his death in early 2020.
Meanwhile, as in many other places, the adopting of neoliberal economic policies for building the alleged Palestinian State was at its height. Already in 2007, the Palestinian ‘revolution’ and liberation dream was being steered into a neoliberal societal restructuring, engineering the emergence of new forms of spatial arrangements that continue to coincide with the Israeli State and the military practices of oppression in Palestine, and are in fact an outcome of the latter. Such new spatial forms have emerged, for instance, in the shape of exclusive residential areas and housing projects, and high-end business towers, offering consumerist concepts of citizenship and a new vision and version of Palestinianity.
In view of these shifts, one cannot avoid recalling Abu Ali’s 1977 short story “Qit Maqsous al-Sharibain” as a prediction of the life Palestinians may be living today, yet not in the margins and as a revolutionary act but in the centre and as a conservative way of life. Nihilism, absurdity and escapism are presently the tools neoliberalism has provided for neutralising the revolutionaries. As such, it could be said, the bleakness at the centre of our present life was a future dreamed by a marginalised revolutionary past.
As Abu Ali’s legacy remains haunting in the present, we are compelled to reread his texts and cultural acts while asking: How can we, under such circumstances and with such realisations, imagine a future which would resist becoming a victim to a conservative dream of liberation that is being nurtured in the present?
It is apparent today that Palestine as a liberation idea, shaped by decades of struggle, resistance and artistic creation by Palestinians, and non-Palestinians as well, has been a subject of continuous dismantlement. Therefore, there is a necessity for a responsible reshaping and reconstructing of the definitions of Palestine and the Palestinians in their struggles and revolutions anew – as a position for the objection of oppression and coercion, and as a basis for imagining a new form of togetherness that exceeds any imposed national, ethnic or geographical boundaries and subsequently pave the way for imagining human emancipation per se. We ask: What space can we imagine or create inspired by all the “No’s” Palestinians continue to say, and all the proposals they continue to reject? How to consider Palestinianity as a witness position and a perspective that can set the bases for a world bound by mutual care, rather than by a nationalistic understanding? At this instance, we proceed to ask the practical question: What would a Palestinian expect from others so that her or his life becomes liveable? And what would a Palestinian expect from her or himself so that the lives of others become liveable?
Imagination and resistance are of exceptional significance to addressing these questions, as well to thinking how to counter and subvert the present manifestations of oppression also evident in the stagnation of political imagination, and the continuous dismemberment of societies based on cultural, economic, religious and spatial criteria, among others.
The field of culture, as Abu Ali and the sidewalkers suggested more than four decades ago, can be a leading domain in providing the tools required to articulate, critique and question the unbounded violence that aims to perpetually dehumanise us. At the same time, culture can effectively be one of the main means in the process of instigating our imagination to counter the ongoing turmoils, and in presenting us with visions for and alternative futures. Therefore, it is critical that cultural practitioners, academics, artists and thinkers active in the present engage in the method of divination in order to come up with alternative visions for a more just future.
In launching the project Divinations: the art of remembering the future, the A.M. Qattan Foundation seeks to address these questions, along with other relevant ones. Accordingly, we call on artists, intellectuals, academics, curators, art historians and critics, and especially those who have participated in past editions of the Foundation’s Young Artist of the Year Award (YAYA) programme, to share their visions of a future that effectively subvert the present conditions of human deprivation to which many are being subjected worldwide within current local, regional and global political and social leanings.
Unlike the previous 10 editions of YAYA, this one will be devoted to imagining the future, with all its possibilities, risks and opportunities, through instigating a series of modules. Modules are a process of learning and research that can include, but not be limited to, a series of workshops, interventions, talks, walks, courses, seminars, etc, and involving a group of participants. The outcomes will be showcased, thoroughly discussed and synthesized, in order to contemplate the future and to reimagine the YAYA as a fresh intervention that can sustain its significance within the visual art scene in Palestine and beyond for years to come.
Thus, the project invites proposals for an imagining of the future of Palestine, and the possibilities and potentials the Palestinian experience can offer to all humans, while relying on the predictions of new cultural values and aesthetics. We seek, additionally, to question the role of culture in forming the future, based on current cultural trends of the deprivations of the political conditions and the normalisation of violent practices of control and conservatism. The project especially welcomes proposals that are investigative in nature and contain explicating questions on the axiological future of culture and the visual arts, and the direction and method of cultural work, including working collaboratively and towards a desired togetherness. Proposals are also welcome from applicants who intend to work in art spaces and in collaboration with initiatives across Palestine, or in direct conversations with non-artists.
A conference is planned for the last quarter of 2021 and is expected to synthesise the experiences and outcomes of a number of selected interventions within the Divinations: The Art of Remembering the Future project, and which are important to contemplating the role of cultural institutions, including the A.M. Qattan Foundation in the future, and to the consideration of other directions and possibilities of art events such as the YAYA.
To read the full story of "A Cat with Cut Whiskers called Rayyes" please click here
 Rasmi Abu Ali, “Qit Maqsous al-Sharibain Ismahu Rayyes”, Beirut: Al-Adab Magazine, vol. 5-6, May 1977. [Online 9 January 2020]: https://archive.alsharekh.org/Articles/255/20303/460752
 Abdo Wazen, “Rasmi Abu Ali, a creator in the heart of the Palestinian literature, and on its margins”, Beirut: Independent Arabia, 9 Jan, 2020. [Online 24 March 2020]: https://www.independentarabia.com/node/85301/ثقافة/رسمي-أبو-علي-مبدع-في-قلب-الادب-الفلسطيني-وعلى-هامشه
 Hussein bin Hamza, “Rasmi Abu Ali on the sidewalk of Beirut”, Beirut: al-Akhbar newspaper, 6 Jan 2011. [Online 18 March 2020]: https://al-akhbar.com/Last_Page/81561
 Rasmi Abu Ali, ‘My first book’, Beirut: al-Akhbar, Kalimat Supplement, 5 Dec, 2014.
 Almodon, “The departure of Rasmi Abu Ali”, 9 Jan, 2020. [Online 18 March 2020]: https://www.almodon.com/culture/رحيل-رسمي-أبو-علي-منظر-الهامشية-في-زمن-الثورة
 Al-Arabi al-Jadid, “Rasmi Abu Ali, the ends at that sidwalk”, 9 Jan. 2020. [Online 20 March 2020]: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/culture/رسمي-أبو-علي-نهايات-عند-ذاك-الرصيف