Friday, May 1, 2009

9-Emily Jacir's Where We Come From

Image: From Emily Jacir's Where We Come From

How does this translate to strategies in art? I am still trying to make that connection; for now I will use it to read a work by Emily Jacir, and hope that someone will make this connection in the future. A strategy for the interior realm would be to undo one's identification within any construct where one is in position of power/dominance (e.g. heterosexual, or the majority race) by rendering it uncanny. In moving permanently to another country with a very different culture from the one I grew up in, my attempts to speak the new culture and adopt its standards, and being able to do so and get accepted only by renouncing my original culture, enabled me to look at my culture from the point of view of the other one, to denaturalize culture to a certain extent, and to identify with the minorities in my home country. A strategy for the exterior realm would be to connect at the level beneath the construct: for the construct of national identity, on the level below, that of the common subjectivity of being human; for the construct of non-human-animal/human-animal, on the level of ones who similarly experience joy and physical pain — to problematize the definition of human[15].

It is the connection made at this level that makes possible and provides the motivation to work towards undoing the construct. In a conflict resolution, it is the initial step of being understood and heard by the other party that opens up the connection between them, of the common experience of being human. It is this connection which enables resentment to be dissolved and provides the motivation of both parties to work synergistically through differences[16].

The punctum[17] of Jacir's Where We Come From[18] (a description of this piece[19]) comes from identifying with the human desires – to see one's family, to place flowers on the grave of one's mother. These are quotidian desires whose fulfillment one takes for granted but are denied to the Palestinians portrayed. This identification is on the level below the construct of national identity, that of being human.

Identification is further sought by having the viewer look from the point of view of the absent Palestinian (a position of power that is granted to most viewers as well as Jacir, who can travel freely with a U.S.-issued passport). The strategy to represent the Palestinians as absent is not only a metaphor for their absence in their home country, but serves to enable the viewer to more easily inhabit their position.

[15] For more on speciesism check out writings by Carol J. Adams.
[16] 'Community Boards of San Francisco Strengthen "Civic Muscles" through Conflict Resolution'. Civic Practices Network (CPN). 20 Apr. 2009 <>. Community Boards's web site is
[17] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1982.
[18] Jacir, Emily. Where We Come From, 2002-2003. 20 Apr. 2009 <>. More images of the piece can be found on this site.
[19] Waxman, Lori. "Picturing Failure". Parachute 115, 2004. Waxman writes affectingly about Jacir's Where We Come From and its strategy of combining photographs with text.

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