The artist Hannan Abu-Hussein was born in Umm al-Fahm and has been living and working in Jerusalem since 1995. Her works examine identity and locality, femininity and masculinity, memory and matter, and the intersection of cultures.
“My art is concerned with the status of women in Arab society,” Abu Hussein explains. “I have a dual identity – my roots are those of a Palestinian Arab woman, but on the other hand I work within the art scene in Israel. I exist between two worlds, and it’s important for me to give that fact space and resonance within the sphere of art. My works exhibited at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv deal with the status of women and with questions concerning local identities: Palestinian and Jewish identities and the space that lies between them. Through these works I wish to stimulate discussion and conduct a dialogue between myself and the setting of my exhibition.”
The materials that Abu-Hussein uses include construction materials, such as concrete and cement. These allude, on the one hand, to the Arab construction workers who have been building this country, and on the other hand to the Separation Wall cutting the land. The wall separates the two peoples, but still it allows one to see what lies on the other side. In other works the artist uses soft materials such as needles and sewing thread, which are typical materials for feminine craft. “My varied choice of materials throughout my artistic career relates to male-female relations and to women’s place in Arab society and in society in general”.
In this exhibition, which takes place in different parts of the museum – which is actually an archeological garden containing remains of different cultures and communities from 3000 years ago and up to the present, from the Philistine city of Tell Qasile to the Palestinian Beidas House – the artist alludes to these themes, and to questions of identity and locality, in the domestic sphere and out-of-doors, to private space, family and community. The lobby of the main exhibition hall (the Rothschild lobby) holds video works that describe and document the artist in action. The labor and handiwork turn into symbols before the viewers’ eyes, forming a discourse with no words, an intimate encounter with a woman and a culture. The two domestic installations, “Samandara, 2018” (the pile of mattresses) and “My Mother’s Blanket #2, 2019” are also held in this lobby, allowing an encounter loaded with memories from the Arabic and Jewish home.
From the dowry blanket the exhibition passes to the museum’s archaeological garden, where two site-specific installations – “Bukgeh (the bundle), 2019” and “In Between the Destruction of the Father, 2019” have been constructed in the flour-mill and the oil-mill. The installations bring women’s work into two institutions that have traditionally been the domain of men in Arab society, and also create an encounter between the two peoples’ histories, since the location of the museum garden is close to the site of the Palestinian village of Sheikh Munis (الشـَّيْخُ مُوَنِّس), while the oil-mill and the flour-mill are reconstructions in the spirit of Palestinian structures. The encounters and power relations reflected in the artist’s works seem like a reflection of the archaeological and contemporary stratigraphy of our life.
Dr. Debby Hershman is an archaeologist and anthropologist, Deputy Director and Chief Curator-at-Large of MUZA Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv