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Iman Al Sayed

Alumnus
Geometry and Statistics of Displacement


imanalsayed.com


geometry and statistics of displacement

Our cups of coffee
Birds green trees
 
In the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall
 
to another like a gazelle
 
The water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us
 
Of the sky. And other things of suspended memories
 
reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid,
 
and that we are the guests of eternity
.[1]

I started reading Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian national poet, since I was seven. Darwish for me was the news reporter who detailed Palestine and its scenery. I learnt from him the taste of Yaffa’s oranges and the smell of ‘Akka Sea. My grandmother used to tell me about the sandy beaches of Gaza, and how it felt like semolina; clean, soft and pure. My father told me about the vivid memories he had of the jujube tree that was in the courtyard of his house. I was a child of the Diaspora, and those were my adopted recollections of Palestine.

In the year 2000 the second intifada (uprising) was ignited, the news about Palestine were different, the images on the Internet and newspapers where different. I was looking for the oranges, the sea and the jujube tree, but I was only able to find rebels, blood and destruction. The traumatic events and images shocked me but transcended me to a state of denial. I still believed that the oranges are there and the sea is there. I kept on searching for images of the cities and I found the beauty, but only under foreign names and letters that I did not understand. ‘Akka became Akko, Yaffa became Yafo, Majdal became Askelon, ‘Aker became Kefar Yakron. Occupation became a reality for me and my Diaspora became concrete. 

Several assaults later, the news became statistical and numerical. People were confronted by the names of people killed and the family owners of the houses demolished in the past, but as the events escalated, names became numbers and houses became forms. The numbers of camps have increased and the situation of the refugees and the displaced became even more disastrous. In this current situation, the numbers and statistics are highlighted rather than the actual lives. The condition of Palestinians became a merely repeated pattern; the individuality is lost, the private became public and the once particular became universal. 

We became highly saturated with documentation through images that we may become apt to normalize events and the actualities of beings surrounded by repeated slogans, repeated histories and repeated assaults. The outside world tends not to see destruction anymore, but only the traces of what is left; the demolished houses became contours with no character or resemblance to what was once there. The harsh realities of a whole collective here became outlines and traces; yet another image that is so distant to our own surroundings.

In this new image-based reality, I began to think in terms of mere abstraction; the geometry referring to the forms and traces that we see of images and documentation, while the statistics refer to the numbers of the displaced that are confined to columns in sheets and charts. This adopted mean of abstraction raised more questions that I try to answer or look into through my practice. What does it mean to have numbers and statistics screening the aftermath of destruction to the realities of the displaced? How can such situations be summarized in a single excel sheet uploaded on a website? What would the overexposure and repetition of imagery in media distress on the apprehension of the actualities? What is lost in this form of repetition?

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Through repetition, in the case of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the refugees in the Diaspora, the individuality, the private and the basic needs could be lost. What is found, and also what is perceived, are mere traces. This is the case of IDPs not only in Palestine but also in over 60 other countries with more than 55 million displaced by conflict or by disasters[2]and over 15 million ‘registered’ or known of refugees worldwide. But the aftermath of demolishing is summarized in a one-page statistical report with numbers and references. Destruction is minimized to a single 1024 x 768 or 1280 x 1024 sized photograph published on the Internet.  

The stories of IDPs and refugees in the Diaspora are latent histories waiting to be recognized and acknowledged. Although articles and studies are performed, hundred of artworks represent the matter and several organizations are concerned, the individual stories are left behind either at the place they once have been, in the consciousness of those born outside or in overly-exposed and margined documents. Numerous boxes are available in archives untouched and un-witnessed if compared to the inventories (or the general context) that may be looked at, or the numbers of collections that are mentioned and noted and the dates or eras they cover statistically.

Andreas Husseyn notes the commodification of memory and history[3]; not only memory and history are being commodofied, but also the term Diaspora and refugee that lost their actuality and become a notion, although it is a reality for Palestinians after 1948, for myself and for other nations and communities that suffered ethnical cleansing or displacements. However, it is now used to describe a majority condition, as a trace, by neglecting the details and the factual day-to-day realities of individuals in the Diaspora. This aids the disappearance of the land, disappearance of people and their rights, and the disappearance of current realities in perceptions.

With this in hand, can we try and expose the hidden and suggest new ways of perceiving by using the same means that were inflected on realities, to reconstruct another form that confronts us with hidden certainties? Can we create active dialogues beyond conventional methods that may suggest forms of propositions and presentations rather than simple representational monologues of situations causing only empathy or compassion? Can we activate and act rather than react?

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[1] Mahmoud Darwish, Under Siege, 2002, translated to English by Marjolijn De Jager

[2] http://www.internal-displacement.org/global-figures, opened on 1 December 2014

[3] Andreas Husseyn, Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia, 2003

 

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