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Imagination as Resistance: In Conversation with Palestinian Writer Adania Shibli

On Wednesday, February 12, the Gurmani Centre held a talk titled “Imagination as Resistance''. The guest for the day was Adania Shibli, a Palestinian writer who has authored accredited works of fiction and nonfiction and teaches at Birzeit University, Palestine. Through this talk, the Gurmani Centre hoped to initiate a tradition of inviting writers and artists from diverse global regions to LUMS.

The discussion centred around ways in which Palestinians employ cunningness and playfulness in their daily lives to resist the Israeli settler-state, and how this playfulness has inspired contemporary Palestinian artworks. Shibli began by quoting some lines from a Palestinian play: “I can’t take it any longer. I am suffocating, I want to play.” She then traced the idea of using cunningness as a tool to hoodwink an oppressive authority figure back to the writings of the German writer Bertold Brecht. She also discussed the influence of these ideas on communists such as Jerry Rubin in their efforts to avoid the persecution of the American state.

After discussing the tools of cunningness that Palestinians employ to challenge the restrictions of the Israeli state, she showed the audience various artworks inspired by these everyday practices. “When Palestinians are not allowed to access paved pathways or alleys outside refugee camps,” she said, “they play marbles in those very areas to reclaim their space.” She then showed the audience the work of artist Mona Hataum who was inspired by this practice to use marbles in her artworks.

She also elaborated on how Palestinians “play hide and seek” and go through underground sewage tunnels to avoid detection when the Israeli check posts hinder and control their movement. Following this she showed the audience Khaled Jarrar’s video Journey 110 and Rald Bawaya’s photography series ID92559661, which captured Palestinians crossing the underground sewage canals. “In Gaza, artist Muhammad Abu Sal placed metro sign boards around the city to refer to these underground tunnels,” she said. Shibli also highlighted how it takes longer for Palestinians without a Jerusalem I.D. card to go from one place to another, given the length of these alternate routes. Shibli then showed an artwork installation titled Hourglass in which every device measured time differently to hint at such unequal experiences of movement and time. Other artworks like the movie Divine Intervention also captured the fantasy of some Palestinians to cross these check posts without having to play hide and seek.

Continuing her discussion of check posts, Shibli also highlighted how some Palestinians “play the game of dress up” to avoid being stripped and searched. This prompted her to display another contemporary Palestinian artwork, a short video titled Chic Point which filmed a fashion show for Israeli checkpoints. In her concluding remarks, Shibli stated how Palestinians employ such playfulness in their daily lives and artworks with minimum force but maximum imagination. “This allows them to reclaim a potentiality of life they have otherwise been deprived of,” she remarked. At the end of the talk, the Gurmani centre presented Shibli with a piece of calligraphy as a gesture of gratitude.


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