New artist-in-residence Emily Jacir explores Palestinian narratives

by Courtney McKee | 1/29/19 2:00am

The Studio Art department is hosting a new Artist-in-Residence for the winter term. Emily Jacir is a conceptual artist who works in a range of mediums, from photography to sculpture to installation. 

“What I find most striking about her work is the breadth of her practice, the rigor with which she approaches all of those forms,” said studio art professor Gerald Auten. 

Auten has been running the Artist-in-Residence program for 25 years. Beginning in 1932, Dartmouth has given artists such as Josè Clemente Orozco and Frank Stella a home in which to focus on new projects with no expectation to teach, as well as to interact with the student body. 

“Relationships with residents happen because students want to get to know them,” Auten said. “The resident will usually establish a relationship with around five students and these relationships continue throughout their lives; the artist becomes like a mentor to the student.” 

Each resident artist is chosen by a committee of nine faculty members of the studio art department. Jacir, who was born in Bethlehem but splits her time between Rome in Italy and Ramallah in Palestine, seemed a fitting choice for the program, which seeks to expose students to diverse perspectives.

“We hadn’t had someone like her for quite a while,” Auten said. 

Jacir’s exhibition, currently in display in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery in the Hopkins Center, is entitled “Where We Come From.” It consists of a series of photographs from 2000 and 2001, taken in response to restrictions placed by the Israeli government on the free movement of Palestinians around Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. 

“People were unable to reach each other anymore,” Jacir explained in an interview with The Dartmouth. “The exhibition came out of a desire to have a conversation across borders with each other, as Palestinians.”

Jacir, protected by her American citizenship, asked affected Palestinians one question: “If I could do anything for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?” The photos show her completion of these requests, with most people asking to live vicariously through her as she spends time with the families they are not allowed to visit. 

“My favorite request came from a girl named Hanna who asked me to go to Haifa where her family came from and play soccer with the first Palestinian kid I saw,” Jacir said.

Students present at the exhibit opening on Tuesday were struck by the casual intimacy of the photographs. 

“I like how her photos show a fulfillment of promises; it gives them a really warm quality,” Emma Dunleavy ’22 said. “They’re very personal.” 

Others expressed gratitude that Dartmouth is supporting artists like Jacir. 

“Her work is very interesting,” Farid Djamalov ’21 said. “I’m happy that the college is bringing artists here that raise narratives about the world beyond Dartmouth.” 

Indeed, Jacir’s work is largely concerned with revealing hidden and forgotten narratives. It recognizes how much of the world can be explained through these narratives and how much history resides in a single story. Her work reminds viewers that conflicts are not just the chess matches of governments but that they materialize at the smallest levels — the individual and the home. 

Jacir’s previous exhibits include “Europa” at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 2016, a hundred years after the 1916 Easter Rising.

“Europa was an accumulation of research about the shared heritage between Palestine and Ireland,” Jacir said. “I was interested in excavating that further, through the lens of keeping time in public space.” 

Both states share the experience of being under an occupying power and both are “connected by imperialism and settler colonialism,” Jacir explained in her opening talk on Jan. 15 at the Loew Auditorium. 

She gave an example of one such parallel. In 1916, the British government ruled that Dublin Mean Time, 25 minutes behind London, was inconvenient for telecommunications and that Ireland would operate under Greenwich Mean Time. A year later in 1917, upon capturing Jerusalem, the British demolished a clock tower displaying Ottoman time after deciding it to be an eyesore. The recounting of these small yet significant moments in history demonstrates the fastidiousness of Jacir’s research. 

“She is so engaged with contemporary culture,” Auten said.

 Jacir’s intellect, coupled with her poetic sensibilities, have made her an important figure in the art world.

“I want as many students as possible to meet her,” Auten said. “I am thrilled if a resident changes even three students’ lives, and how they think about the world.”