Occupied Vacancies

My interest in understanding the role of memory, and in parallel, the role of archival objects or mementos, stemmed from my desire to find a sense of belonging within my own Palestinian community, and specifically within my family. As a white-passing Palestinian woman born to older parents with an American citizenship, a Palestinian ID, three half-brothers living half-way across the ocean, and raised an only-child, I struggled with finding my place and in defining my own identity.

I began investigating the concepts of identity, space and time, and the role of memory in the perception of reality (truth and falsehood) by rummaging through my own family archives and found objects; mainly documents, photographs and videos. Essentially, one object stood out – my family tree – which helped me begin my search.
What motivated this search, was the fact that my family tree was incomplete. It only included the names of male family members and excluded the names of their female counterparts. This is often the case in many Arab and Muslim societies. The reason being that women ‘cannot carry the family name’. My research began with my own family, libraries, online archives, and other multiple sources for genealogical and archival research to learn anything about these omitted women. I was unable to find any information. As a result, I began re-imagining their stories, beginning with my paternal grandmother and retelling hers through navigating archives, my family’s stories and my own fragmented memories of her. These initial explorations took the form of books, writing and collecting as a form of storytelling.

For my MFA thesis project at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in January 2020, I began exploring alternative ways of exploring these complex narratives: I came across an old VHS tape of my childhood in Jerusalem, while on a visit to the West Bank, where my family currently lives. This footage is the only moving image available of my family at that time, and of my grandmother. I continued to use this footage to explore the juxtaposition between reality and memory, truth and fiction, and space and time, and began to investigate the domestic space as an imposed environment for the female body, and how, through the larger context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the domestic space transforms into a ‘waiting room’. I’m interested in how this perpetual state of waiting manifests itself into the physical, direct environment of the domestic space; how the objects, structure and bodies begin to reflect on this state, and how the female body begins to develop agency in this state. This took the form of rotoscoping, an animation technique that is used to trace over motion picture footage, frame by frame, to produce realistic action – my first attempt at this technique, and light projection.

The experience of seeing the video footage of my grandmother, as opposed to still photographs, reminded me of the forgotten intricacies of her movements. The act of rotoscoping; drawing over her image, over and over again, hundreds of times, for hours and weeks, became a therapeutic act of re-ingraining and re-remembering what my memory could not preserve – as if I was reintroduced to my grandmother, as an adult woman, and learning her along with myself.

In this challenging time, I am navigating the virtual space with fresh eyes as an opportunity to integrate an interactive and intimate experience through storytelling. Moving forward, I aim to continue my investigations of femininity, community, identity, memory, the body and space as the relate to the Palestinian and human experience, in all of its altitudes.