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How a Palestinian Artist Turned Detainment into Creative Opportunity

Khaled Jarrar would've attended his art opening in New York, but he was a bit preoccupied.

Khaled Jarrar, Still from NO EXIST, 2014. Live streamed projection. Courtesy Whitebox Art Center.

The name of the show that opened on July 16 at the New Museum in New York is called Here and Elsewhere, but one of the artists selected to be in the international art showcase, a gentle Palestinian man named Khaled Jarrar, wasn’t there in New York as he had intended to be. Nor was he at the opening of his concurrent solo exhibition at the alternative art space Whitebox Art Center, also in New York. The reason? A fascinating and unnerving story where Jarrar, whose passport is stamped with a U.S. visa, tries to enter Jordan over the only bridge out of the West Bank to catch a plane to New York, where he is subsequently detained and forced to return to Ramallah.

“Yesterday was the longest day of my life and a day of humiliation,” Jarrar said in a statement shortly after the detainment, in which he was called “garbage” by the Israeli border guards. “I felt real racism on the part of the security at Allenby Bridge.”

Khaled Jarrar, Bus Stop, (2012). Video installation, 4:15 min. Courtesy Whitebox Art Center.

Jarrar’s work is political, but in a very clever way. The curator of the Whitebox Art Center show, Myriam Vanneschi, details in an article on Hyperallergic that she met him in Berlin, where he was marking people’s passports with a “State of Palestine” stamp, an example of his humorous yet clear-eyed and incisive art. It’s a simple act, but one that took a strange turn when Vanneschi realized she had to travel to Tel Aviv the next week.

Another work, one that was shown at Whitebox in absentia, “BUS STOP,” is a video that he made with the children of Wadi Abu Hindi, a Bedouin community of 350 people in the West Bank. The title of the film is ironic, as most of the children need to walk several miles, past the dangerous area of a Jerusalem dump, to school each day on the desert roads.

Khaled Jarrar, Still from I. Soldier, (2014). Video, 4:00 min. Courtesy Whitebox Art Center.

Because of his inability to travel, Jarrar has changed the name of his show at Whitebox Art Center to NO EXIT, and created a new work called "NO EXIST" that scrolls the names of each person killed in Gaza during the current conflict, live updated by Jarrar with information provided by a Lebanese news channel. This piece is projected on a 15 x 22 foot screen, and Whitebox’s technical advisor Igor Molochevsky has used an algorithm that uses the automatized voice of a middle-aged man to read the names in Arabic and the age of the victim in English.

“This is a piece Khaled Jarrar didn't plan to make at all, but the denial of traveling with a U.S. visa in hand by the Israeli Military blocking access to his plane in Jordan, offered him an opportunity to interact his art making with a most tempting and tragic reality,” says Whitebox founder Juan Puntes via email.

During the exhibition, Jarrar and Iranian curator Mohammad Salemy held a panel discussion at Whitebox, with Jarrar participating via Skype from Ramallah. In addition, Jarrar organized a satellite project at art space Undercurrent Projects, which consisted of informal panel discussions about the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as talks about Jarrar’s works and the state of art in Palestine.

Currently, Jarrar is still in Ramallah.

Here and Elsewhere is on view at the New Museum in New York until September 28, 2014. NO EXIT was exhibited at Whitebox Art Center from July 24 through August 7, 2014.

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