Based on a documentary use of photography and structured around ethnographic principles of testimony, the work of Palestinian artist Ahlam Shibli (1970) is a complex exploration of the tragedy of the country where she was born and continues to live: the Palestine that emerged from the British Mandate and has, since then, been ravaged by conflict arising from the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Perhaps drawing on the personal experience of uprooting experienced by Israeli Arabs, of which she is one, Shibli's work invites us, as spectators, to reflect deeply on the devastating effects of political conflicts and of the redrawing of borders on identity politics: the tragic rootlessness of people in borderlands, the contempt they suffer, and, ultimately, what Hannah Arendt described as the constant denial of their 'right to have rights'. Pushed into blind alleys, often invisible in the narratives of both the winners and the defeated, these communities of outsiders must make use of marginal, often elliptical grammars, in order to make their demands, their anxiety and their confusion heard. Nonetheless, Shibli's work is not just an incursion into the many expressions of this struggle for visibility. It is also a defence of the ambiguity that always hides behind the delineation of borders. An uneasy ambiguity that political agents attempt to eradicate, setting machinery in motion that only leaves behind fragments, traces of what once was, dreams from exile, empty footprints on the sand.
Alberto López Bargados. Anthropologist and lecturer at the University of Barcelona
Installation of 'Trackers' within the exhibition 'Ahlam Shibli. Goter and Trackers' at Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, 2007