Ahlam Shibli احلام شبلي

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© Ahlam Shibli
Ahlam Shibli — LOST TIME

A Nomadic Discretion

John Berger, 2003

The meaning of the verb hide changes a great deal according to the situation and context in which it is used. The act of hiding can be reassuring or dangerous, heroic or cowardly, natural or exceptional. For those who exercise power and are accustomed to doing so, to hide something or somebody, is usually an illicit, subversive act. For those without power, hiding is an act of survival and a way of waiting for things to change. Rulers often pretend that the impulse to hide comes from a sense of shame or guilt; the ruled know very well that it comes from a cunning and an intelligence they admire and need. Ahlam Shibli is a photographer of the hidden, she photographs evidence, traces, places, people, who have remained in hiding. As a Palestinian photographer she is of course on the side of the hidden and those who hide. She lives under cover with them. Some of them are alive, others have departed. I don't think she believes in History; I think she believes that the departed, the absent, are simply elsewhere. She works with great stealth — not because she's secretive or wants to take her subjects off guard (she respects every one of their guards), but because she has to outflank generalisations, for she has learnt that generalisations play into the hands of the powerful, the ignorant and the arrogant. She knows that what is precious, more often than not, hides itself — and is the opposite of jewellery worn by the rich! She has discovered that the dust of every place without a name has its own taste. Her pictures of residences might have been taken by a ghost, they are that empty. Not even a photographer was there. And perhaps this discretion has something to do with being a nomad. Nomads foresee, pass and look back, but they do not arrive.

Miraculously, this is how Ahlam Shibli makes a camera her own. She's an incomparable artist and a seer who will never betray a secret.

This essay was published in the catalogue:
Ahlam Shibli, Lost Time. Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2003

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