At Venice Biennale: The Words of a Palestinian Poet Who Wasn’t a Poet

Otherwise Occupied” is an exhibition composed of two projects by Palestinian artists Aissa Deebi and Bashir Makhoul. It runs until 30 June at the 55th Venice Biennale:

bannerThe first project, called “The Trial” — named after Kafka’s 1925 novel — is a re-enactment of a speech by Palestinian poet Daoud Turki, who was tried for treason in the Haifa District Court in 1973 and jailed for 17 years. The project description notes that “Turki’s trial for treason by a state that refuses to recognise him as one of their own already places us within the world of Kafka’s fictional character, Josef K.”

Curator Bruce Ferguson says of Turki’s speech, used in the project: “The speech is disguised as impossible or illegible in order for us, as activated viewers, to still find the possible within it – the hope it hoped for.”

But Turki, an activist and writer, is not just dislocated from his judge and his 2013 audience. In Khaled Furani’s excellent Silencing the Sea: Secular Rhythms in Palestinian Poetry, Furani interviewed the activist-poet, grouping him with a number of others who “are deprived of admissibility to the poetic community because they are likely to be dismissively called ‘composers,’ those who can regulate sound but do not have due imagination. In other words, although their ability to compose metrically is admitted, they are thought to lack inspiration. This separation between verse and poetry, between sonic and imaginative capacities seems to have embittered what Turki had to say about the contemporary poetic field.”

otherwise2Furani visited Turki in 2001, eight years before the poet’s death, and “Turki spoke from…the marginal position of an obsolete poet, insisting on the old, traditional forms. … In Turki’s defense of the classical qasida, he expressed a nonprogressive, nontriumphant rhythm of historical time.”

Turki told Furani that he found his poetic heroes among the dignified and oppressed of pre-Islamic poetry, like ‘Antara bin Shaddad and Tarafah bin al-Abd.

“For Turki,” Furani wrote, “the grandeur and honor of those pre-Islamic poets lay more in their ethical accomplishments than in their ‘artistic’ ones.” Furani added that he was surprised at Turki’s rejection of the appelation “poet.” Turki told him:

“I don’t need the title of a poet. I don’t accept such a title. I am first munaadil (a man of struggle) and then a poet. This is what I write. You don’t have to call it poetry. You can call it political articles composed with poetic meteres. It does not honor me to be a poet. My action is my honor, my homeland. But poetry is not honor for me.”

Aissa Deebi recently did an interview with Ahram Online about the installation; he said of his use of Turki’s speech in The Trial:

“I wanted to go back to when utopia was possible in the 1970,” explains Deebi. Back then, an anti-Zionist, Jewish-Arab leftist group led by Turki believed that communism was the answer for peace, and that it was the recipe for “utopia.”

Deebi found it interesting to “revisit this moment in history and bring it back.”

The artists reciting the speech are constantly interrupted, and Deebi told AO: “I wanted to show that the experience was never complete. They are constantly interrupted, so by the end of the 15 minutes, the actors do not actually deliver anything.”


Ahram Online: Otherwise Occupied: An alternative Palestine in Venice 

Times Higher Education: Palestinian exile refuses to be boxed in

The exhibition runs until June 30.

1 Comment

  1. Because WordPress doesn’t like you to post links in comments and routinely shunts link-bearing comments into spam folders, I’m constrained to cut-and-paste something lengthy. If you think it’s at-a-tangent to the above, then please delete it and accept my apologies. It’s from an article I wrote in June 2011.

    When I write, as I have done many times, in support of mutuality as an alternative to capitalism, statism, and political oligarchy, I give examples of experiments in the area of co-operative and communal living. What I do not do is hold them out as examples of perfection. They are only experiments after all. One of my examples is the kibbutz system in Israel.

    I have been thinking about what divides people from each other. I have been thinking of my principle of ‘No Bosses, No Borders’ (the anarchist’s ‘No Cross, No Crown’?). Specifically I have been thinking about the wall built between the Gaza Strip and Israel. To me its importance is not that it pens Palestinians into an effective ghetto, nor that it may well protect Israeli citizens from terrorist attack. To me its significance is that it divides people from each other who may well have much more in common than those things which appear to divide them. It forces them not to consider mutuality. Again to me this is where its true evil lies, irrespective of what other good-or-evil purpose or function it may have.

    In an article in ‘Freedom’ in 1997 Meir Turniansky wrote about the kibbutz where he lived – Kibbutz Samar. He reminded us of certain facts about the kibbutz philosophy: “First of all the Kibbutz movement was never Jewish-Arab but based purely, like the rest of the Zionist movement, from it’s beginning in the turn of the century, on Jewish immigrants from east Europe who were influenced by Marxist ideas…” […]. In the same early paragraph he goes on to say how the death of Stalin was reported in the kibbutzim newspaper with the words “… the sun of nationalities has turned off”! The article went on to explain how the kibbutz system changed in step with the development of the state of Israel as a whole.

    I would like to quote a large passage from Turniansky’s article:

    //…many Kibbutzim are not a utopistic society anymore but a society in transit towards a rural town on the scale of a small village. Still the Kibbutzim were never “pioneers of anarchism” except a few rare examples which I feel one of them is the kibbutz I live in which like some others still maintains it’s revolutionary way of life but in a different way than the original kibbutz.

    The kibbutz in which I live… has an ideology of non intervention with the members life which remarkably reminds anarchist theories. The main points of social “order” here are:

    1. Everybody decides for himself where and how much he works.
    2. There is no budget, everyone draws cash as he wishes.
    3. decisions are reached only by dialogue or the assembly.
    4. There are hardly any committees to monitor internal affairs as in other Kibbutzim.
    5. All facilities e.g. kitchen, office etc. are open all the times — there are no locks anywhere.

    These features or customs of our life style are possible because here lives a small group of people which decided it wants to live this way. Of course this requires much self control from the member since this whole system is based on the fact that people will consider the communal property, money and works to be done as their own and therefore will work well and spend the money sparingly, but all is done according to their decision. The belief is that this freedom will lead to better results than the usual systems of control and coercion societies usually use. Up to today things are working fine, this place is prospering and has a strong social spine. There are about 150 residents living here including 80 members. We grow dates and vegetables and have a dairy farm and some tiny factories. Maybe the most interesting thing… about this place is the fact that you will not find here more than five people who know who Kropotkin was. The word “anarchy” is hardly ever mentioned, and is sometimes even abused in it’s negative misleading conception (equal to just one big mess where nobody cares about anything). This place emerged as an anarchistic society without people planning it ideologically. The healthy society here is more a result of people from well-to-do houses being fed up of the rotten systems they grew up in (many of them were raised in old and stagnated kibbutzim) having an opportunity to act freely and manage their own lives from A to Z as a small desolate rural place like Samar makes possible.

    I feel that in Samar it is proven that true anarchy can exist and benefit the people who practice it. People here are always willing to defend the way of life we live even if it means restraining themselves since eventually they do prosper and enjoy a good deal of freedom…//

    I came across all the above when I was looking for any information I could find about the inclusion of Arab people within the kibbutz system. I found none, which saddened me. That is the erection of a fence which should never have been erected, a chance lost in the drive for an ethnic homeland, Isaac slaughtered on the altar of nationalism.

    I say I found none, but that is not quite true. There was an article by Simon Griver in ‘The Jewish Chronicle Online’ dated 13th June 2008:

    // A kibbutz has accepted an Arab citizen’s request to become a member for what is claimed to be the first time.

    Amal Karmia, a divorcee from the Arab town of Kalanswa, north-east of Tel Aviv, officially became a member of Kibbutz Nir Eliahu, near Kfar Saba, where she lives with her teenage daughter Aya and son Adam.

    Israeli magazine ‘The Kibbutz’ reported that this was the first time in the history of the kibbutz movement that an Arab had been accepted as a member. Ms Karmia, a nurse, has a long association with Kibbutz Nir Eliahu. Both her children attended the kibbutz kindergarten and she became the nurse in the kibbutz clinic in 1997. In recent years, she has lived on the kibbutz.

    “This is the place and these are the people and this is the lifestyle which suits me,” said Ms Karmia. “Even so, we are Muslims. We fast on Ramadan and keep all the festivals. My children enjoy the best of both worlds and have a universal outlook.”

    As for the future, she said, “people on the kibbutz ask me if the children will go back to Kalanswa to find a spouse when they are older. I tell them it will be up to Aya and Adam to decide what kind of life they want to lead.”

    Neta Beeri, who is in charge of new members for the kibbutz, said: “This was not a symbolic act. We have known Amal for years and love her. She is a person that we wanted as a member. Even so perhaps others will realise that Arabs do not have horns and there will be more Arab members of kibbutzim.” //

    I’m tempted to say: a nice thought but don’t hold your breath. The fact that the event is trumpeted sixty years after the foundation of the state of Israel says something!

    When you get to my age (oh my Lord – I said ‘when you get to my age’!) you will however realise that culture is not immutable. I have seen the culture of the country where I live change many times due to a multitude of pressures. What that teaches me is that maybe cultural conservatism and multiculturalism should after all be given up, thrown away, in favour of a natural mutuality such as was reported from Kibbutz Samar in 1997, but on a larger scale. Maybe if we bind our treasured cultures to the altar and raise the knife then a ram will be provided. Is it not worth having faith?
    Marie Marshall

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