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.