From/To, Fareed Armaly, Witte de With, Rotterdam; 28.1— 21.3.1999.”


A stone is the smallest visual and graspable element of the soil; the building of a house begins with the foundation stone; with the tombstone, a life ends; a stone might also be used in defense and turned into a missile. The stone as a metaphor is the starting point for Fareed Armaly in his exhibition on the history, life and identity of the Palestinians. A people who lives without their own territory in Diaspora and a state which ceased to exist in 1948.

The artist/curator Fareed Armaly, son of Lebanese-Palestinian parents, born in America, is well acquainted with this. Since years he researched topics of historically conditioned identity definition. In this case, he also trails his own history. The hope of a home in an independent state as the result of the courageous fight of the Intifada——this is somehow how the meaning of the stone, as described above, might be projected on to the fate of the Palestinian people, which is shown here in many different facets.

Not only to show the fate of this torn apart people, who exist by going from one camp to another, Armaly took the stone as the founding pattern of his exhibition dramaturgy and architecture. The starting point was the digitalization of the stone’s surface and to reflect these structures onto the floor of the space, by that creating a web of paths on which to walk on. From intersecting points on the floor, the white lines are drawn like rays out to the walls on which they are led as earth-colored lines to the next floor, by that covering the whole spatial body. According to the revolutionary interpretation of the nineteenth century geographer Elisée Reclus, who interpreted in his researches “history as space,” cartography is understood here as an always changing matter. As if Reclus anticipated the digital age, the three-dimensional data-web in the space leads the audience through it. One walks by the empty columns and feels as if being placed by the computers and monitors, as the only fittings, into an artificial data-space. This is why the directing signs of the path-web, such as “From Gaza to Al-Karama Camp, From City Center Amman to Al-Hussein Camp,” is to be read as giving the political location of what only exists as a hopeful idea. The latest map of the Israeli-Palestinian territory shows that these roads are impassable. To get from one location to the other the people have to choose other more difficult and exhausting ways.

The new media become therefore the more important. Their role to keep up private as well as public communication and to help to define an identity is crucial. The exhibition would be merely a model and would not have a contemporary reference to the current situation if Armaly would not have founded his project on media as a source of information and communication. Through it the exhibition mirrors the actual situation. Telephone, TV and computer have to replace the interhuman relation.

The offer of didactic instruction and entertaining material is impressive. Naturally, Armaly invited specialists to give each of the topics covered a scientific foundation: historians, sociologists, anthropologists, film and TV professionals grant the adequate use of each media and a well-founded presentation of its content. As a starting point, the well-versed exhibition designer offered a multifaceted poster within each topic area, pictures and text laid out in chess-like patterns. One would have liked to read those texts seated and not standing in front of the walls. As soon as the visitor has read those helpful texts he, comparable to the Palestinians, is caught in the multimedia experience-space.

For the first time, it is possible in the West to see the latest productions of feature and documentary filmmakers, and what should be noted: female filmmakers as well. In corporation with the Rotterdam Filmfestival a complex program was shown. A part of the exhibition space is designed as a cinema too. Apart from the Palestinian film the video is also important, which convey to bridging an information gap of the historical development since 1948. By linking space and identity the filmmakers connect memory with fiction and documentation, convincingly and without being one-sided. One learns a lot of the life in the camps, the Israeli settlers, the peace process, education, child labor and unemployment; one must not forget the special film and video selection for children. Not only Armaly’s exhibition contributes to the peace process, also its contents which without being partial or polemic document and analyze.

Also, the Institute for Modern Media at the University of Jerusalem is being introduced. It informs about the teaching and educational situation and presents productions on education, literature, and social behavior. It was also planned that a Jordan woman organization from Amman would send in weekly accounts of five women living in a Jordan camp. This could not be accomplished because of the death of King Hussein. The audio installation with interviews from woman in refugee camps is far more than a replacement: the interviews are cut so the audience is able to picture the fate of these women, which mirrors rootlessness and being a refugee, by themselves.

The computer which is centered in the middle of the space underlines within the web and data-net the role of the electronic media which is gaining more importance as an information and corresponding media for the Palestinians. Here one may read on-line important essays, maps and documents, though not yet linked to the local Rotterdam-Net. To place the current websites in the internet will be the next goal.

A surprising and unexpected view on the history and self-portrayal of the Palestinians is given through two picture archives, one in Jerusalem, the other in Beirut. Already in the very beginning of photography, in the mid-nineteenth century, the new media reached Palestine. Impressive examples portray it mainly as a biblical country. This view is also reflected by the early postcards, which are exhibited as well. At the turn of the century a didactic postcard production was created, aimed especially at Western audiences: Natives were dressed in biblical costumes to mirror Palestine as the “Holy Land.” Even today the historising photography exists next to the contemporary.

As Armaly always tries to design his projects location specific, the link in the exhibition to the country in the Middle East and the exhibition space is the section called “Neighborhood.” Here, through the Rotterdam industrialization history, it is shown, through the protagonist Salman, that the first Palestinian immigrants in the 1960s, have by now become Dutch-Palestinians.

The actual quality of the exhibition is that all parts of the presentation create interest and sympathy and that they function to inform as well as to educate, without creating the feeling that hatred or provocation is created. As always the information architect is able to give the topic an artistic form, which includes every section. Armaly (41), who lived in Vienna and Cologne succeeds Nicolaus Schaffhausen as Artistic Director of the well-known Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, which was by Ute Meta Bauer. He will not only serve there as the decisive starting point.