Posted February 19, 2009
Emily Jacir, a Palestinian American who lives in New York and Ramallah, has won the Hugo Boss Prize of 2008. This award is given to support significant achievements in contemporary art. Her two-part exhibit is at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City until April 15th. It tells the story of Wael Zuaiter, a Palestinian intellectual living in Rome when he was killed by Israeli secret service agents. Although there is no evidence that he was linked in any way to the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, he was gunned down in retaliation.
The show opens with a small photograph of Zuaiter lying in a pool of blood–we know the end before we examine the artifacts of his life. Wael Zuaiter was shot twelve times, with the thirteenth bullet lodged in the spine of “The Thousand and One Nights.” The artist reproduces the pages so that the viewer can trace the bullet’s trajectory.
The first part of the exhibit is “Material for a film,” as the artist displays mementos from a life cut short. Most important are the postcards he sent from Palestine, a favorite recording of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, photographs taken with friends and relatives, a snippet from a film in which he played a walk-on role as a waiter. Jacir even reproduces the covers of the English-language books in his library. These reflect his love of poetry, but there are novels, Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, a psychology text, and Frederick Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.
Jacir fires a .22 caliber pistol at books
The artist interviewed Zuaiter’s friends and reproduces their evaluations on one section of the wall, clear evidence of his non-violent character. Another area contains photographs she took of the apartment house where he lived and the streets he walked. We even hear an eery recording of phone-tapped conversations.
Then the exhibit opens into a room lined and squared with white shelves. They contain 1,000 blank notebooks, each with a bullet hole. Representing the writing and translating Wael Zuaiter never accomplished, the books stand as both an accusation and as a deeply felt memorial to a silenced Palestinian intellectual. If you are in New York before April 15th, be sure to stop by the exhibit.