by Rachel Heidenry
Anyone who has visited the New Museum’s extraordinary exhibition Here and Elsewhere will recall the miniature refugee camp taking over the upstairs gallery. Magic mixes with critique in these remarkable recreations by artist Wafa Hourani. Modeled after the Palestinian refugee camp and well-known checkpoint site dividing Ramallah and Jerusalem, Qalandia, the installation (named Qalandia 2087) invites viewers to peer into windows, around corners and through buildings of temporary homes to discover artificial subtleties of daily life – clothes hanging to dry, children playing in the streets, the Palestinian flag strung across rooftops. The structures emote both division and perseverance – cement homes that remind us of rigid separation, but also a commitment to living. At once fantastical and imaginative, the installation offers a pointed critique at segregation, destruction and war.
Wafa Hourani was born in Hebron, Palestine in 1979. He continues to live and work in Palestine and draws from the region’s cultural beauty and tumultuous history. Themes such as utopias, the relationship between art and reality, and societal behavior are spread throughout Hourani’s projects, which concentrates heavily on the city and the other created landscapes. Not limited to a specific medium, the artist consistently explores the aesthetic possibilities of film, photography, architecture and design.
Qalandia 2087 is the third edition in a Qalandia series that also lies within his Future Cities project. The first corresponded to the date 1947 – when the State of Israel was established, while the second, Qalandia 2067, reflects the 1967 occupation after the Arab-Israeli Six Day War. The process of building upon the same project brilliantly imitates the repeated trajectories of these historical events, while also reflecting the inevitable changes in terrain, architecture and territory that have become molded over time. Hourani reminds us of the impermanence of place and intractability of conflict, while narrating the unfortunate recurrences of history.