Center for Race and Gender Thursday Forum Series
Dreams and Visions of Palestine from Jerusalem to the San Francisco Bay Area
The Power of Portraits in Narratives
co-sponsored by Muslim Identities and Cultures
Scholarship exploring the significance of photography in oral history narratives has been increasing in recent years. Building on this scholarship, this panel suggests that photographs add another dimension to narratives. More specifically, photographs provide an opportunity for interviewees to assert their agency through nonverbal expressions and the settings they inhabit.
To further advance the argument, this panel juxtaposes two oral history projects with portraits of Palestinians living under occupation and in diaspora. In the first project, Palestinians Envision Life Without Occupation, Irum Shiekh combines text with portraits of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Birzeit. In the second project, Najib Joe Hakim uses audio with portraits of Palestinians living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The audience is asked to test the credibility of the text and audio as they link the narratives to the portraits. In both projects, interviewees share their aspirations, dreams and visions of their homeland as they discuss themes of occupation, occupation of diaspora, liberation, alienation, homeland, and belonging. Combining photos with narratives, this panel examines some of the multidimensional meanings that visuals assign to oral histories and thereby expands the ways oral history can be used to capture marginal voices.
Palestinians Envision Life Without Occupation (Irum Shiekh) highlights the resilience of Palestinians in their struggle for their homeland. The project examines the power of imagination as a resistance strategy that Palestinians under occupation have used while they continue to envision a homeland with prosperity, equality, “uninterrupted landscape,” mobility, and stable democratic government. The interviewees assert that pervasiveness of military checkpoints, walls, prisons, killings and restrictions have not deterred them in their struggles for a nation that is free of occupation. The project invites the audience to read the narratives along with the photos and explore the agency of interviewees in the advancement of social change and social justice.
Home Away from Home: Little Palestine by the Bay (Najib Joe Hakim) explores the questions: “What does it mean to be Palestinian in America?” and “What does it look like to live under the occupation of diaspora?” These interviews show how Palestinian Americans’ memories and ideas about Palestine collide with their daily lives in the US, a country whose political culture is profoundly antagonistic toward Palestinian national aspirations? Home utilizes audio recordings to “animate” the interviews and B&W portraits of Palestinians living in the SF Bay Area, the second largest Palestinian community in the US. Audience members are able to experience the literal voice (with all its subtle and profound messages) as they look into the interviewee’s photographed face.
Irum Shiekh is the author of Detained Without Cause: Muslim’s Stories of Detention/Deportation in America after 9/11 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). Her book features narratives of six immigrants, wrongfully arrested in connection with the 9/11 attacks, and later deported for minor immigration/criminal charges. Her documentary, Hidden Internment: The Art Shibayama Story (2004) provides examples of extraordinary renditions of Japanese during World War II. For the year 2010-2011, she was a Fulbright Scholar at Birzeit University in Palestine. Her latest research provides oral histories and portraits of Palestinians and their visions about their lives and homeland without occupation. Currently she teaches in the department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Oregon, Eugene.
Najib Joe Hakim works as a documentary photographer and photojournalist in San Francisco. His work has been published in national and international magazines and newspapers. He has won numerous awards including Best Photo Essay from the CA Newspaper Publishers Assoc., 1st Prize in the Luminance Exhibition 2012 (NYC), top ten photo projects of 2008 by Social Documentary Network. He was also a nominee for the US Artist Fellowship. He is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Masters Program in Contemporary Arab Studies, as well as the Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management. He obtained his BA in Philosophy and History from the University of Virginia, after which he studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Hakim’s current personal project: Home Away from Home: Little Palestine by the Bay juxtaposes recorded oral histories with B&W portraits. The project explores how Palestinians in the SF Bay Area maintain ties to their homeland while living in a country whose political culture abhors their personal aspirations. The viewer will be able to hear the voice of the person while looking into their photographed eyes. Link: < http://electronicintifada.net/content/palestinian-america-najib-joe-hakims-home-away-home/14073>.
HOME was exhibited at Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco Nov. 2014 and The Jerusalem Fund Gallery in Washington, DC in Sept. 2015. It is scheduled for another San Francisco exhibition at the Jewett Gallery in Civic Center in the fall of 2016. HOME follows his Born Among Mirrors in which Hakim portrayed his own family’s journey from Palestine to the United States. Mirrors has been exhibited in galleries on both coasts. Parts of the project can be viewed at:<http://socialdocumentary.net/photographer/Najib%20Joe%20Hakim>. In conjunction with Mirrors, he co-produced with Laurie Coyle a ten minute video about the experience of the Hakim family, called Cooking Lessons: A Palestinian American Story, which can be seen at:< http://vimeo.com/31985970>.