A picture worth 50 years: Jaffa Art Salon and B'Tselem collaborate

A new exhibit brings Palestinian and Israeli photographers together with 50 Palestinians who were born in 1967.

ISRAELI PHOTOGRAPHER Miki Kratsman’s contribution to ‘50 Years’ exhibit. (photo credit: Courtesy)
ISRAELI PHOTOGRAPHER Miki Kratsman’s contribution to ‘50 Years’ exhibit.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When first approached by B’Tselem –The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories to curate the “50 Years: Fifty Portraits of Palestinians Born in 1967” exhibition at the Jaffa Art Salon, Maayan Sheleff had no idea how intensely complicated the logistical journey would be.
Marking 50 years of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, “50 Years” presents 50 portraits of Palestinians born together with and living under occupation.
“I chose all of the photographers, aside from a few who already worked with B’Tselem, and we reached the subjects through various channels,” explains Sheleff. The real challenge was how, when and where these individuals would meet. Arranging for travel in and out of West Bank and Gaza is no small feat and in many ways, the mere existence of the exhibition is its biggest success.
Sheleff instructed her artists to do a simple thing, to photograph a portrait of their subject.
“It is a portrait exhibition and portraits are a very classic type of photography. They reflect, in the most direct way, the person who is being photographed.”
That said, Sheleff was not after 50 face-on images.
“I told my artists that they could break the portrait in any way they wanted. I encouraged any kind of out-of-the-box thinking about a portrait; it could be one person, many people, an attempt to foster a new dialogue. I intentionally noted that I wanted it to be open. Some of them are journalists so they have one way of photographing. Others come from art so they have a different way. You can see it in the exhibition.”
In pairing her teams of artist and subject, Sheleff aimed to present a range of emotional, socio-economic and political states. Fifty years of occupation has fostered millions of realities and Sheleff hoped to capture notes that would resonate with all involved, artist, subject and viewer.
Whether it was in a field, a kitchen, a workplace or a parking lot, the meetings involved a certain level of intimacy.
“The pictures show the places that these people live, the view, their work and their family,” explains Sheleff. “Some really focus on the eyes or the face up close. Nitzan Hafner photographed someone lying on the floor with closed eyes. There is something very disturbing, but also an act of trust between them. Ronit Porat knew that she wanted to collaborate with her subject, Khaled al-Azayzeh. They took pictures from Khaled’s Instagram account and Ronit made a collage, so Khaled’s isn’t a portrait but what he sees and how he chooses to see it.”
Sheleff’s hopes for the impact of the exhibition are at once humble and grand.
“It’s always very tricky when you ask about a goal in an art show. I always am interested in political art, in the place where art and activism meet. I see the curation as a collaboration with B’Tselem. I see it as an artistic compliment to the work B’Tselem does. They work with photography a lot. They have The Camera Project, which, beyond its legal implications, has a very strong artistic side. The people who receive cameras experience a flip of power dynamics. The camera becomes a nonviolent weapon. Not for nothing they call it ‘shooting a camera’. It’s very powerful.
“I see this exhibition as a way to see the connection between human rights, activism, photography and art. The idea is to see these people as humans, to humanize the way Israelis see Palestinians, which is either as terrorists or victims. To see them as people, their happiness, their struggle, their power. It’s not all sad. It’s their gaze that we return back to them as viewers. I hope that it’s an exhibition that will appeal to the heart and the mind, maybe it will have an impact on our reality. I hope it’s a call to action.”
50 Years – Fifty Portraits of Palestinians Born in 1967 will run at the Jaffa Art Salon through December 7. For more information, visit www.jaffaartsalon.com.

Tags B'Tselem