Adam Szymczyk, 2007
Arab al-Sbaih, the new series of photographs by Ahlam Shibli, was realised at Irbid Refugee Camp, Irbid City, Baq'a Refugee Camp and in Amman City in Jordan where Palestinians have been living since the war of 1948.
Some people from the village in Lower Galilee, where Shibli's family comes from, fought for their lands in 1948. In the course of the war they had to flee to Jordan, others decided to stay. The title of the series refers to the name of that village, Arab a Sbaih (literally "the Arabs of small hours") in Lower Galilee. At day-break the dawn sunlight would appear at the bottom of the East slope of Mount Tabor.
Shibli's work stems from the tradition of photographers who have documented the life of the Palestinian people since the late 19th century. Her photographs depict unfinished houses, densely built areas dotted with satellite dishes, deserted plains, concrete rubble, cemeteries––and nowhere is home. Some black-and-white archival photos of Palestinian families are shown, portable memorials to a lost time. Human presence is only incidentally captured live.
It is as if Shibli exposes her true protagonists unintentionally, a controlled distraction of the gaze allows her subjects to hide from view. The roughest conditions are treated with tenderness, yet without sentimentality. Shibli uses the photographs as powerful instruments for understanding things.
Director of Kunsthalle Basel
This essay was published in the catalouge:
documenta Kassel 16/06–23/09, 2007. Edited by Roger M. Buergel and Ruth Noack. Exh. cat. documenta 12. Cologne, 2007.