Paris

Taysir Batniji, Tempête (Storm), 1998/2021, diptych, acrylic on canvas on wall, each 82 5⁄8 × 42 1⁄4". Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Taysir Batniji, Tempête (Storm), 1998/2021, diptych, acrylic on canvas on wall, each 82 5⁄8 × 42 1⁄4". Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Taysir Batniji

Musée d'art contemporain du Val-de-Marne (MAC/VAL)

Though Taysir Batniji began as a painter, training at An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine, most of his early works on canvas here flout the medium’s conventions: They are rolled up and bound with tape—no “picture” is visible—and emblazoned in red with the word INFLAMMABLE, a term shared by the English and French languages, rising from the Latin flamma. Breaking with figurative painting soon after his arrival in France as a student in 1994, Batniji turned to Conceptual experiments, as in Tempête (Storm), 1998/2021, a yellow monochrome diptych on canvas that peels away from the wall, where his wide brushstrokes continue. He initially embraced photography, which would become the heart of his practice, as a mobile, practical solution. In ID Project, 1993–2020, for example, color prints document the time-consuming process of navigating French bureaucracy—acquiring legal residency and later European nationality—as a Palestinian artist with an Israeli passport. This show, Batniji’s first full retrospective, opens with a selection of photographs from “Chez moi, ailleurs” (At Home, Elsewhere), 2000–. The series pulls away from the political realm into quiet interiors, capturing recurring motifs of windows and keys beside items that suggest the responsibilities of parenthood: a hospital bracelet around Batniji’s child’s wrist, house rules written in ballpoint pen.

Born in Gaza the seventh of eight children, Batniji lost a brother to Israeli snipers in 1987, at the start of the first intifada. To My Brother, 2012/2020, is inspired by a drawing of a soldier his brother had made and then erased that fateful day. Batniji translates joyous snapshots from his brother’s wedding album into monochrome drawings made with a dry pen pressed hard into sheets of Hahnemühle paper. The engraved effect is ghostlike; some of the fifty drawings are as delicate as lace. Batniji’s interest in remnants and in the shapes that frame territories and lives continues in his ongoing photographic series “Grounds.” Beginning in 2008, when he didn’t have a studio, he took pictures of detritus on Parisian streets and sidewalks as he walked his first child to and from nursery school. Each image is a tableau of his then recently adopted city, his desired and eventually gained French nationality, and his new role as a father. Variously featuring eggshells, leaves, a piece of pink candy flattened into the shape of a heart, his found compositions on black asphalt are shaped by puddles, sunlight, and traffic markings. Also based in a practice of walking, Batniji’s recent series “Pas perdus” (Lost Steps), 2019–20, comprises pencil rubbings of footprints, turning pedestrian traces into found portraiture.

Covid-driven lockdowns and French curfew decrees are, for Batniji, echoes of lengthy confinements he experienced in Palestine. With precision, he addresses the ongoing conflict there, picturing menacing Israeli guard towers across Gaza in the guise of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s black-and-white water-tower photographs. Batniji’s “Watchtowers,” 2008, mimics the Bechers’ scale and framing, but where the Bechers’ prints are crisp and exacting, Batniji’s clandestinely captured images are often blurred, as if dissolving. Meanwhile, Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 disco anthem “I Will Survive”—the soundtrack from an early video, Me 2, 2003—fills the exhibition space. Batniji had recorded the song as it blared in through his apartment window from a festival on the street below. His video cuts between grainy footage from a video recorder in his hand and another propped on a shelf, capturing his body as he spins, ecstatic. The effect is like a spark.