Yazan Khalili, Copy of a Copy of a Copy, 2017, posters, ink-jet print, shipping pallet. Installation view. Photo: Alexander Wolfe.

Yazan Khalili, Copy of a Copy of a Copy, 2017, posters, ink-jet print, shipping pallet. Installation view. Photo: Alexander Wolfe.

Yazan Khalili

Yazan Khalili, Copy of a Copy of a Copy, 2017, posters, ink-jet print, shipping pallet. Installation view. Photo: Alexander Wolfe.

Yazan Khalili’s show “On the Other Side of the Law” analyzed life in Ramallah from the standpoint of legality, focusing on the often-absurd contortions to which Palestinians must submit their daily routines in order to accommodate international laws. Khalili connects questions of lawfulness to a discourse on the circulation of images, adapting a strand of recent critique to illustrate the larger political failings of a system ill-equipped for the realities of its subjects’ lives. 

The three-channel video installation Robbery in Area A, 2013–16, for example, highlights flaws in the West Bank’s tripartite mode of governance. The Oslo II Accord divided the territory into three zones, variously administered by the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis, and the two powers together. This means, for instance, that burglars can rob a bank in Area C, scuttle through to Area B, and then make it to Area A faster than the authorities are able to coordinate among themselves (the Palestinian authorities of Area C need Israeli approval to operate beyond their prescribed zone). The work is based on an actual robbery that took place in 2008, which Khalili recounts via subtitles on an otherwise blank screen; the other two channels show his own (semilegal) surveillance of Palestinian banks and footage of fires burning in the West Bank. 

The painted canvases of Apartheid Monochromes, 2017, refer to the use of specific colors to signify place of birth, ethnicity, and residence, in license plates and the identity cards Palestinians must carry. Khalili relates these shades to the variously colored monochromes that Yves Klein exhibited before his fam-ous blues. But while Khalili’s gesture acknowledges the outsize importance of color in the territory, Klein seemed a flippant reference point for this discussion of the regulation of bodies. 

This problematic—the inherent weakness of aestheticization as a political strategy—was addressed head-on elsewhere, in some of the exhibition’s strongest works. In I, The Artwork, 2016, Khalili photographed a contract, written from the point of view of the artwork, with stipulations concerning its future. These ranged from capricious exhibition display demands (“I, THE ARTWORK must be exhibited no less than 3 meters from the nearest corner”) to rules over ownership (“I, THE ARTWORK shall not be owned, sold, or donated to an individual, an institution, or a state which is a settler-colonial state, or supported by a settler-colonial state”). The piece itself—a photograph of the contract tacked up on the wall over a sofa—builds the potential for abridgment of these terms into its own existence: It is an image of a contract, rather than a binding legal document, with no real say over who will own it in the future.

The photographic installation Copy of a Copy of a Copy, 2017, looks at the strange case of Suleiman Mansour’s Jamal Al Mahamel (Camel of Burdens),1973, a painting of an old man carrying the city of Jerusalem on his back, which became a symbol of Palestinian resistance and is frequently reproduced as a poster in the Arab world. Muammar Gaddhafi bought the original painting, which was then destroyed in a US air strike on his Libyan compound in 1986. Mansour also created others, and there have been intermittent claims regarding which is the oldest extant version, with increasing financial stakes. Copy of a Copy of a Copy shows a photograph of an exhibition in Palestine in which a collector hung an early poster of Jamal Al Mahamel––a now valuable item––and, in front of this image, a thousand copies of a photograph that Khalili took of a printing shop in Ramallah that had a small-scale poster on display. The thousand copies are themselves printed as posters, and are stacked and tied on a wooden pallet—not for the visitor to take, à la Felix Gonzalez-Torres, but together comprising an object that will now reenter the art market under Khalili’s name. 

A growing body of writing has investigated image circulation in light of the increased facility of movement by digital images and images on the internet in particular. David Joselit, for example, has shown how the art market’s means of ascribing value to a work intersects obliquely with how the image itself accrues power through increased visibility. Khalili’s adaptation of this inquiry to a Palestinian context puts that divergence in political terms: He reveals the discrepancy between widely held claims, in this case of Palestinian nationhood, and the legal apparatus that constrains them.

Melissa Gronlund