Dor Guez, Two Palestinian Riders, Ben Shemen Forest, 2011, Duratrans, light box, 37 1/4 x 118".

Dor Guez, Two Palestinian Riders, Ben Shemen Forest, 2011, Duratrans, light box, 37 1/4 x 118".

Dor Guez

Dor Guez, Two Palestinian Riders, Ben Shemen Forest, 2011, Duratrans, light box, 37 1/4 x 118".

In Dor Guez’s 2009 video July 13, the artist’s maternal grandfather, Jacob Monayer, declares, “I won’t go into politics.” Jacob, the patriarch of the Christian Arab family that is the subject of Guez’s recent exhibition “100 Steps to the Mediterranean,” nevertheless goes on to recount the conquest of the city of al-Lydd by the Israel Defense Forces on the titular date in 1948—a day when much of the population (approximately one thousand Palestinians, mostly Christians) was forced into exile, taking refuge in and around the Church of Saint George. The area, soon cordoned off by the Israelis and dubbed “Lod Ghetto,” housed the former al-Lydd residents. Eventually they were resettled in the city proper and given Israeli citizenship, though by then their homes had been looted and inhabited by others. For the three generations of the Monayer family recorded in Guez’s piece, the primary topic of conversation is the experience of daily life as a “minority within a minority.” What emerges from their heartfelt chronicles is the exceptional political situation of a population that does not have a distinct space of representation in either the Israeli or Palestinian national narratives.

Moving between Arabic and Hebrew (with varying degrees of fluidity and in recognizably dissimilar accents and vocabularies) to articulate their senses of cultural belonging and exclusion, Guez’s protagonists struggle to find the right words to express the specific “feeling” that best communicates their experience of inhabiting a multidimensional identity. (Guez actively contributes to this linguistic unheimlich-ness by deploying editing techniques that make it impossible to know both at which point each account begins and ends and what has been left out). In Subaru-Mercedes, 2009, for example, Jacob’s son Sami tries to parse a nagging ambivalence about his “divided nationality”—one set between “Eastern” and “Western” cultures—while off camera, his wife and two daughters can be heard fractiously countering his explanations. In (Sa)Mira, 2009, we are given yet another account, this time by Jacob’s granddaughter Samira, who works as a waitress in Jerusalem. Speaking into the camera (and therefore to Guez), she struggles to come to terms with a humiliating racist encounter instigated by Israeli customers offended that a woman with a distinctly Arabic name would be serving them. With the unseen Guez pressing her to articulate the emotional effects of this confrontation and Samira reiterating “I don’t know” many times over, we understand that the fraught (familial) interactions occurring in front of the camera or just out of view are small instances of larger relations of power.

If this strategic bifurcation between “interviewer” and “interviewee” brings us to the obvious conclusion that self-perception is contingent on the interplay of a plurality of subjectivities, ideologies, and discourses, Guez also points to the necessity of revealing that the very possibility of becoming a subject or “entering into the frame” of subjectivity cannot be disengaged from a question that often remains invisible—namely, who gets to frame the image? To remedy this lack, Guez has established the Christian-Palestinian Archive, beginning with a series of fifteen scanned black-and-white photographs (fourteen of which were on view here), collectively presented as a series titled “Scanograms #1,” 2010. The piece illustrates official and unofficial moments in the life of Jacob, his wife, and their extended family in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Lod Ghetto, Lod, and Cairo between 1938 and 1958. Here, too, there is an acknowledgment of the legitimizing categories (class, marriage) through which a subject becomes an authorized part of a national, cultural, and political project.

There is no question that Guez’s exhibition is tremendously important in that it makes visible the complexity of identity formation in the polarized and unequal spectrum of possibilities for subjectivization regulated by various structures and disciplines of power that come under the umbrella of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Following his insistence that we probe the framing devices and institutions that support the materialization of certain political subjects and exclude others, we may very well be obliged to ask how Guez’s own prominent position in the burgeoning market of Israeli art is intertwined with his ability to “speak” in the name of a “minority within a minority.”

Nuit Banai