– Spring 2013

And My Shrine Is My Mother’s Salon: On Ahlam Shibli’s ‘Death’

Tags: Ahlam Shibli

Ahlam Shibli, Untitled (Death, no.4), 2011—12, Palestine, chromogenic colour print, 38 × 57cm. Courtesy the artist

She stopped her car in the small alleyway known locally as the ‘Hitin Passage’. She suddenly called on a young boy, gave him the keys to her car and asked him to take care of it or use it if he likes until she finishes her work around the old city of Nablus. Bewildered, the boy was handed the keychain and was speechless watching Ahlam disappearing in the busy streets.1

In a press conference on 29 September 2003, the governor of Nablus, Mahmud Al-Alul, declared that 425 Palestinians had been martyred in Nablus in the course of the past three years (of what ultimately became the Second Intifada, 2000—05); 5,260 more were wounded, over 7,000 detained and 1,350 remained behind Israeli prison during that period. Al-Alul accused the Israeli occupation army of deliberately destroying the city’s infrastructure and public buildings, and expressed his concerns about the Israelis’ systematic destruction of Nablus’s historical heritage and landmarks, especially in the old neighbourhoods of the historic city. At the end of his speech the governor praised the inhabitants for their social cohesion, cooperation and exceptional steadfastness in the face of continuous assaults on the city.2

Ahlam Shibli’s research in Nablus, which lead to her work Death (2011—12), investigates the need for social recognition in the Palestinians’ fight against the Israeli assaults on the city during the Second Intifada. Death unfurls a new ground of self-questioning in its carefully selected 68 photographs, transcending both a merely straightforward narration of the traces of the Second Intifada in Nablus and the victimisation of the Palestinians in the course of their resistance. Shibli repositions the viewer

  1. Recollection from a conversation with the artist, spring 2011.

  2. Anonymous, ‘Mahmoud Al-Alul, Governor of Nablus, declares 425 martyrs, 5,260 injured and more than 7 thousand imprisoned during 3 years of Israeli assault on Nablus’, Al-Quds, 30 September 2003, p.2.

  3. Salon, in Arabic, refers to the room where the family welcomes visitors and guests. It contains the family's best furniture, rugs, chandeliers, paintings and other ornaments that are meant to reflect the generosity and welcoming attitude of the family.

  4. The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades are a group of localised cells of Palestinian militants loyal to the secular-nationalist Fatah cause that branched apart from the Fatah movement in 2000 with the aim of attacking Israeli military targets and settlers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

  5. See Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001, especially Chapter Three, Part I, ‘Paradise as a Literary Topos: Gardens of God and Gardens of Love’.