Past Disquiet: Artists, International Solidarity, And Museums-In-Exile - Kristine Khouri, Rasha Salti (red.) - ebook

Past Disquiet: Artists, International Solidarity, And Museums-In-Exile ebook

Kristine Khouri, Rasha Salti (red.)

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Opis

The International Art Exhibition for Palestine took place in Beirut in 1978 and mobilized international networks of artists in solidarity with anti-imperialist movements of the 1960s and ’70s. In that era, individual artists and artist collectives assembled collections; organized touring exhibitions, public interventions and actions; and collaborated with institutions and political movements. Their aim was to lend support and bring artistic engagement to protests against the ongoing war in Vietnam, the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, and the apartheid regime in South Africa, and they were aligned in international solidarity for anti-colonial struggles. „Past Disquiet” brings together contributions from scholars, curators and writers who reflect on these marginalized histories and undertakings that took place in Baghdad, Beirut, Belgrade, Damascus, Paris, Rabat, Tokyo, and Warsaw. The book also offers translations of primary texts and recent interviews with some of the artists involved.

 

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Lata 70. XX wieku: do muzeów i galerii sztuki współczesnej, ale także w przestrzeń publiczną (sale uniwersytetów czy domów kultury, miejskie place i skwery) wkracza sztuka artystów angażujących się w bieżące politycznie konflikty – opowiadających się zdecydowanie po stronie niepodległościowych dążeń Palestyńczyków, przeciw dyktaturze Pinocheta w Chile, przeciw apartheidowi w RPA.

 

Zaangażowanym artystom towarzyszą kuratorzy, aktywiści i polityczni bojownicy. Kontekstem są też działania związków zawodowych artystów, partii politycznych – od opozycyjnych, jak Francuska Partia Komunistyczna, po sprawujących władzę w systemach monopartyjnych, jak partie komunistyczne w krajach bloku wschodniego, w tym PZPR. Tłem jest też oczywiście zimna wojna.

 

To polityczne zaangażowanie owocuje powstaniem ważnych kolekcji sztuki i „muzeów na wygnaniu”, traktowanych jako wyraz międzynarodowej solidarności artystów, a także narzędzie mobilizowania opinii publicznej i szerokiego grona odbiorców w konkretnych sprawach i konfliktach. Książka „Past Disquiet” bada zawikłaną historię trzech takich kolekcji, dziś rozproszonych i niemal nieznanych. Punktem wyjścia do tworzenia mapy tych politycznych i artystycznych działań jest tu zapomniana „Międzynarodowa Wystawa Sztuki dla Palestyny”, zorganizowana w Bejrucie w 1978 roku przez Organizację Wyzwolenia Palestyny, z udziałem artystów z 30 krajów.

 

Książka powstała jako rezultat wieloletnich badań Kristine Khouri i Rashy Salti – poszukiwań archiwalnych i zbierania relacji uczestników tych wydarzeń. Publikacja jest zwieńczeniem ich pracy nad przygotowaniem wystawy „Past Disquiet”, prezentowanej w 2015 roku w MACBA w Barcelonie; w 2016 w berlińskim HKW, w 2018 roku w MSSA w Santiago i Sursock Museum w Bejrucie.

 

Autorzy tekstów: Jérôme Bazin, Dominika Blachnicka-Ciacek, Sara Catenacci, Catherine Dossin, Anselm Franke, Kristine Khouri i Rasha Salti, Elodie Lebeau, Anneka Lenssen, Sliman Mansour, Maeda Rei, Toni Maraini, Bartomeu Marí, Katarzyna Matul, Gordon Metz i André Odendaal, Joanna Mytkowska, Nakajima Izumi, Alia Nakhli, Ernest Pignon-Ernest, Reem Shilleh i Mohanad, Yaqubi, Vladimir Tamari, Jelena Vesić, Caroll Yasky i Claudia Zaldívar 

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCING PAST DISQUIET

BARTOMEU MARÍ

ANSELM FRANKE

JOANNA MYTKOWSKA

KRISTINE KHOURI AND RASHA SALTI

ON PAST DISQUIET

KRISTINE KHOURI AND RASHA SALTI

Transnational Solidarity Networks and Speculative Histories: 1960s–1980s

ESSAYS/INTERVIEWS/DOCUMENTS

SLIMAN MANSOUR

Interview by Mohanad Yaqubi on behalf of the editors

REEM SHILLEH AND MOHANAD YAQUBI

Prologue: The London Film Connection

ALIA NAKHLI

Writing the History of Modern Arab Art

TONI MARAINI

Interview by Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti

For a Cultural Humanism (1977)

In the Margins of the Biennial (1978)

Interview with Farid Belkahia (1978)

ANNEKA LENSSEN

Material Support: On Arab Artists’ Unions and Solidarity

NAKAJIMA IZUMI

Dream for Solidarity: Palestinian Art, JAALA, and Haryū Ichirō in the 1970s and 1980s

VLADIMIR TAMARI

Interview by Rasha Salti

DOMINIKA BLACHNICKA-CIACEK

Lost in Transition? The Forgotten History of Exchanges between Communist Poland and the Palestine Liberation Organization

KATARZYNA MATUL

“Art Instead of Politics”: Polish Artists “in Solidarity” with Palestine and Chile in the 1970s and 1980s

JÉRÔME BAZIN

Seeing Near, Seeing Far: What Do Images Tell Us About Solidarity in Popular Democracies?

JELENA VESIĆ

Trajectories of Solidarity in Time: The Week of Latin America in Belgrade, Students’ Cultural Center, 1977

SARA CATENACCI

Solidarity and Socially Engaged Art in 1970s Italy

CATHERINE DOSSIN

The Brush and the Kalashnikov: The Political Vision of the Jeune Peinture from Paris to Beirut

CAROLL YASKY AND CLAUDIA ZALDÍVAR

An Atypical Museum: The Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende

ELODIE LEBEAU

When Solidarity Became Art: The Museo Internacional de la Resistencia Salvador Allende (1975–90)

ERNEST PIGNON-ERNEST

Interview by Rasha Salti

MAEDA REI

Interview by Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti

GORDON METZ AND ANDRÉ ODENDAAL

Interview by Rasha Salti

List of Works and Photo Credits

PART I

INTRODUCINGPAST DISQUIET

BARTOMEU MARÍ

I cannot remember clearly when or where Past Disquiet: Narratives and Ghosts from the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, 1978became a reality in the program of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), yet I do recall its being introduced to me by artist Walid Raad. After seeing it realized in February 2015, I started seeing similarities between this project and some of the works of the Atlas Group. It felt as though the disciplined task of Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti, the art historians behind Past Disquiet, was gradually starting to give space to the creativity of a fiction writer. In confronting what data were available and verifiable, the detective spirit had to morph into a creative mind; the demonstration of fact, backed up with evidence, was giving way to speculative options for interpreting facts.

Past Disquiet also came into being because of a firm conviction that the history of exhibitions was becoming a key element in the new historiography of contemporary art, and that beyond widely known exhibitions such as Documenta, the Venice Biennale, and similar large-scale events, there is another history of art—one that, even if it has heretofore been discreet or simply unknown to the leaders of the system, also needs to be considered, studied, and represented. MACBA’s role here was precisely to be an eye-opener, an institution shedding light on issues, artists, works, and ideas that were not being sufficiently highlighted because they were ignored by mainstream institutions. Further, the exhibition was rooted in the idea that the history of contemporary art could not be written solely by looking at individual artworks and observing their aesthetic qualities, but rather by looking at the way exhibitions are conceptualized. The “curatorial mechanics,” economy, motivations, and outcomes of exhibitions are also significant information for the historian. Past Disquiet was about all this and more.

By 2015, MACBA was living the effects of the dismantling of public institutions and services in Spain. The effects of the financial crisis of 2008, which in Spain ran in parallel with a major crisis in the real-estate market and the construction sector, dragged public finances into a disastrous downward spiral that, to my knowledge, continues until today. The museum lost nearly forty percent of its public funding, and was forced by its board to lay off a quarter of its employees and reduce its activity to a shameful minimum. My experience as director of MACBA was marked by the generosity and engagement of the great people who resiliently continued working under such conditions, namely the staff, who rallied around the certainty that we could do less, but that we should never compromise the ideals that inspired the museum.

Solidarity, helping those who need support, and giving voice to those who do not have the possibility of making theirs heard: these are noble pursuits. The International Art Exhibition for Palestine and the collection of artworks donated by artists from the four corners of the globe was a result of generosity and international engagement. The research into the exhibition’s history included an investigation of the international webs of solidarity that were linked with the political ideologies of the 1970s, and points to a global political map of ideological positions that is significantly different to that of today.

In 2015, the Catalan political space was already heated by the pro-independence movement, which had been initiated in 2009. In 2011, when the Spanish and Catalan governments, as well as Barcelona City Council, changed from social democrat to liberal conservative, the traditionally nationalist parties gravitated toward a clear stance of support for Catalan independence. To those unfamiliar with it, MACBA is governed by a consortium that brings together the three levels of administration, as well as a private foundation that provides funds for the acquisition of artworks for the museum’s collection. After 2011, the Barcelona City Council and the Catalan government were controlled by pro-independence political parties that promoted the holding of a referendum to invite Catalan society to establish the road forward it desired.

In 1978, by donating their work, artists of different generations from around the world expressed their support for a future Palestinian art museum. At the time, that museum was in exile in Beirut, but it was hoped that one day it would be inaugurated in the territory of Palestine. Might there be a concurrence between the Palestinian movement for freedom, as embodied by the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Catalan pro-independence movement? Not only was there no existing relationship between these two contexts, but, in 2005, the Catalan pro-independence party in government maintained its long-established sympathy for the Zionist movement. Given Barcelona’s location at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, along whose eastern coast lie Palestine, Lebanon, and Israel, the city could play a key role in reflecting Middle Eastern art and culture in Europe. The idea of creating space in Europe, from Barcelona, for other ways of reading modernity, the contemporary, and the just-past, as well as for imagining a future that embraces a new geography, and that includes North Africa and the Middle East as a neighboring environment, has been under construction with exhibitions and commissions at MACBA since 2013 with Ahlam Shibli’s Phantom Home, followed, in 2014, by Sigalit Landau’s Phoenician Sand Dance and Before Our Eyes: Other Cartographies of the Rif, curated by Abdellah Karroum and Soledad Gutiérrez.

The presentation of Past Disquiet at MACBA in 2015 was produced with a very modest budget, and yet it offered examples of very creative curatorial and display decisions in a gallery with a difficult architectural configuration. Original documents, digitized copies, photographs, publications, graphics, projected images, video, film, and audio recordings were put to work to narrate a history that took place more than thirty-five years prior to the exhibition. I am very happy that what could not be produced then is now in your hands: a publication about the research into the exhibition and its history, as well as the narratives, myths, and shadows created in its wake, especially after the apparent destruction of the artworks over the course of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, during which Beirut was besieged by the Israeli military.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti, as well as to the many whose work and contributions, opinions, and memories made the exhibition possible. I would also like to thank all those who have supported in one way or the other the research project, the exhibition, and, especially, this publication.

Bartomeu Marí is the director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. From 2007 to 2015, he was the director of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.

ANSELM FRANKE

A museum for a nation under siege and in exile: this is an exemplary project of canon-formation. It is in the relative void, in conditions of insecurity, that the fundaments and resources, the thoughts and references, and the human relationships that make up the fabric of culture come to the fore. To talk about the canon meaningfully is possible only if we do not take for granted the mechanisms that render it powerful, but look at it against the foil of historical danger, where its grounds become unstable. And histories of colonialism and of exile create such unstable ground, a void in which culture needs to be reasserted and founded anew.

The museum that was proposed by the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, organized by the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut in 1978, was to be repatriated to Palestine at an undetermined future moment to sow the seeds of a future national art museum. History is always in need of construction, and this is nowhere as visible, perhaps, as in the case of contested nationalities. In the arts, a canon does not always work only as an instrument of institutional power and a seat of ideologies and their legitimization and normalization. Ungrounded by a field of historical contestations, and faced with the dangers of the destruction of memory and even of meaning as such, a canon becomes indispensable in the formation of historical consciousness, and provides shared ground, like a language that connects across boundaries. The question is what such a language makes speakable—and what it perhaps renders unspeakable.

Such thoughts inform Kanon-Fragen at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. The overarching project consists of a series of exhibitions and publications that read twentieth-century art history against the grain, in order to connect the present to the living historical grounds of art production, and to position art in a productive friction with political histories and with art’s conditions of its own possibility.

Past Disquiet: Narratives and Ghosts from the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, 1978, curated by Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti, was the inaugural exhibition of Kanon-Fragen in 2016. An ongoing research project, the exhibition was revised and expanded from an earlier version. Khouri and Salti’s reconstruction of the story of the 1978 Beirut exhibition has uncovered an intricate network and shared history of politically engaged artists and initiatives. Further, it reveals a scarcely documented history of grassroots artists’ collectives in cities like Paris, Rome, and Tokyo, and artists’ unions in Baghdad, Berlin, Casablanca, Damascus, and Warsaw. It revisits seminal editions of biennials in Baghdad, Rabat, and Venice, museums in exile in Cape Town, Managua, and Santiago, and the collaborations that animated the transnational anti-imperialist solidarity front.

Past Disquiet draws cartographies that link constellations of artists and groups bound by political affiliations and solidarities, beginning in Palestine and expanding to other itinerant exhibitions intended as “museums-in-exile” that were contemporary with the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, such as the Museo Internacional de la Resistencia Salvador Allende, Art Contre/Against Apartheid in South Africa, and Art for the People of Nicaragua. These have revealed recent, although forgotten, museological practices, while links to the First Arab Biennial in Baghdad (1974) and the 1976 Venice Biennale uncovered yet other cartographies and exhibition models that have a shared history. Past Disquiet engages with alternative museological models and practices, ultimately exploring the mechanisms of canon-making from a critical perspective. Its examination of the history of exhibitions allows it to shed light on today’s artistic production within the broader context of political, media, economic, and cultural conditions.

Anselm Franke is the head of the Department of Visual Arts and Film at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin.

JOANNA MYTKOWSKA

The point of departure for this publication came via the research-cum-exhibition project by Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti, Past Disquiet: Narratives and Ghosts from the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, 1978, which aimed at recreating the shape, history, and complex meanings surrounding the International Art Exhibition for Palestine. That exhibition, which was mounted in Beirut in 1978, was planned as a political gesture of support for a free Palestine, and intended to launch a future museum for a future state. This case allows us to examine our own Polish experiences of creating a museum from another perspective. The establishment of new canons and alternative narratives—moments that are necessary even if they are controversial—as well as methods for articulating them, is an obvious touchstone for the process of creating the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, which remains a work in progress.

We were surprised at what a challenge it proved to be to build the museum in Warsaw, regarded by many local stakeholders as a controversial attempt to solidify the modern canon, with its cosmopolitan heritage, emancipatory aspects, and critical potential. How to build a new canon in the face of dominant international traditions on the one hand, and (which now seems the much more difficult issue) within a circle of unstable, poorly articulated, or repudiated local traditions? And this always in the midst of a battle between conflicting interests, political tensions transposing current affairs into symbolic fields and striving to appropriate historical narratives.

Past Disquiet also falls in line with a series of studies of cultural and economic exchange between Poland and Eastern Europe with countries in the Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War. This is a significant aspect of the research commitment of our museum, that awaits further development. This gap has been partly filled by Łukasz Stanek’s research in the project Postmodernism Is Almost All Right, which documents the exchange of architectural and urban-planning ideas and forms in the late and 1970s and early 1980s. An important element of these studies was showing how ideas travel in both directions: from Eastern Europe to the Middle East and vice versa; and that, apart from the ideological or propagandistic aspects, exchange and feedback often occur unintentionally, as is manifest in Stanek’s study in the formal shape of certain postmodernist buildings in Poland.

In taking up research on the forgotten heritage of Cold War cultural exchange, we hoped not only to restore rejected narratives, a necessary effort for building a holistic picture of history; we expected as well to revive at least fragments or strains of alternative narratives about the shape of international exchange and interpersonal solidarity. The current need for a different political imagination, one that is not so helpless in the face of contemporary problems—the migration crisis in particular—makes these issues especially timely. As Dominika Blachnicka-Ciacek writes in her text in this volume, a reminder of how differently the collective imagination once functioned, when compared to current images of life in, and solidarity with, the societies of the Middle East, can be invigorating and open up a crack in the wall of contemporary xenophobia.

But the research by Polish authors leaves no illusion as to the nature of the exchange and character of the involvement of artists from Poland in the International Art Exhibition for Palestine. It was participation bereft of any true commitment, carried out under the cultural policy of the state within a strictly defined ideological framework, and the works of the artists were often chosen without their knowledge. Confrontation with this knowledge, precise information about the operation of ideology and the margin left for grassroots engagement, and the development of depictions of our shared heritage of the Cold War, appear to be necessary and important processes on the road to building a new political imagination without destructive illusions.

Joanna Mytkowska is the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.

KRISTINE KHOURIRASHA SALTI

When we were invited to transform our research into an exhibition, we were compelled to step back and reflect critically on the significance of the histories we had unearthed. It was immediately apparent that we had been threading together a history of artistic, exhibition, and museological practices that were outside the canon. We chose to tell the stories of the networks we discovered as we had mapped them, because they formed the core of our research. This publication shares a side of our findings that is complementary to the exhibition. It aims to foreground transnational art histories that decenter or undermine the canon, and to conjure exhibition and museographic histories to interrogate the prevailing historiography of art during the Cold War. It does so through the lens of international solidarity, focusing primarily on the cases of three museums-in-exile: the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, the Museo de la Resistencia Salvador Allende (MIRSA), and Art Contre/Against Apartheid.

Our point of departure is the International Art Exhibition for Palestine and what it represented to Sliman Mansour, a seminal Palestinian artist whose prolific practice has been dedicated to representing his homeland. In 1978, Mansour traveled from the West Bank to see the exhibition in Beirut. His account has the rare quality of an insider-outsider: he was himself in the center of the battle, and yet at a distance from the dynamic fulcrum of the activities of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Beirut. Following the thread of incarnation and representation, we step away from the 1978 Beirut exhibition to documentary cinema and the Palestine Film Unit. At the risk of indulging unorthodoxy, we invited researchers and writers Reem Shilleh and Mohanad Yaqubi to share an excerpt from an early draft of the documentary screenplay for Off Frame AKA Revolution Until Victory (2016), which parallels with vivid precision our own experience of forensic investigation, and also conveys succinctly how people retrospectively narrate international solidarity with the Palestinian revolution in the 1960s and 1970s.

The first pillar of international solidarity with the Palestinian struggle was spontaneous, grassroots pan-Arab mobilization. Through individual participation and donated artworks, the 1978 Beirut exhibition was inscribed with traces of the First and Second Arab Biennials. All three exhibitions have faded into near-oblivion. In “Writing the History of Modern Arab Art,” art historian Alia Nakhli revisits questions of the production of art-historical knowledge around modern Arab art and the trappings of pan-Arab ideological frameworks. Pushing further into these marginalized histories, we include here translations of two texts published in the Moroccan cultural journal Intégral after the Second Arab Biennial, held in Rabat in 1976: art historian, theorist, and Intégral co-editor Toni Maraini’s review of the exhibition, followed by an interview with the late Moroccan artist Farid Belkahia, at the time the president of the Association marocaine des arts plastiques, an independent group of artists that was sidelined from participating in the conception of the biennial. In reproducing these texts, we aspire to revive the uncompromisingly dissenting and lucid voices that warned against the futility and danger of indulging demagogy. They have proven correct in foreseeing the destructive potential of such a strategy and its attendant positions. We also interviewed Maraini to glean her retrospective thoughts on that chapter of activism in the arts, and translated her previously unpublished essay “For a Cultural Humanism,” which was intended for inclusion in the catalog of the 1978 Beirut exhibition, but did not until now find its way to the printed page.

Art historians Anneka Lenssen and Nakajima Izumi respectively reframe the realms in which tangible and intangible manifestations of solidarity among Arab artists’ unions maneuvered within the complex web of the patronage and oversight of ministries of culture and autocratic regimes, and examine the underpinnings of international solidarity and cooperation that the Union of Palestinian Artists developed with the Japan Asian African and Latin American Artists’ Association (JAALA). Probing the question of solidarity in Japan further, we interviewed Palestinian artist Vladimir Tamari, who lived in Japan from 1970 until his death in 2017. A close friend of PLO representative Fathi Abdul-Hamid, Tamari witnessed the emergence of interest in the question of Palestine among Japanese leftist intellectuals, and was himself actively involved in sensitizing the Japanese public to the tragedy of Palestine. His testimony illustrates with candor how international solidarity was generated, and foregrounds the importance of the PLO representatives of that time and their engagement with culture.

Researcher and cultural historian Dominika Blachnicka-Ciacek delves into several public archives to consider the case of Poland’s relations with Palestine and the Arab world in the 1970s and 1980s, while art historian Katarzyna Matul interrogates the predicates of officially sanctioned international solidarity under autocratic regimes and their capacity to instrumentalize subjective artistic expression. In a similar vein, art historian Jérôme Bazin examines cases of seminal images of international solidarity, their iconographic language, representations of otherness, and modes of dissemination.

If solidarity is an incarnation, it is also a projection. During the Cold War, Yugoslavia was a primary driver in instituting the Non-Aligned Movement. There, solidarity was sanctioned by the state, but it also existed at the grassroots level. From iconographic analysis to deconstructing resistance, knowledge, and language, writer and curator Jelena Vesić revisits a seminal event that took place in Yugoslavia in 1977 around tri-continental solidarity, precisely when Tito’s regime was veering away from it. She reconsiders the significance of the event from the perspective of disenchanted Yugoslav youth. Art historian Sara Catenacci looks back at instances in which artists marshaled their practice and know-how to incarnate and embody their engagement with local and international struggles in Italy in the 1970s, pointing to the radically transformative potential that solidarity actions could have imparted to major events such as the Venice Biennale. Traveling north to Paris to examine the same time bracket, art historian Catherine Dossin revisits the waning of the insurrectional and anti-establishment positioning of the Jeune Peinture, specifically regarding its involvement in international solidarity.

The final section of the book addresses museums-in-exile. Curators and writers Caroll Yasky and Claudia Zaldívar, and art historian Elodie Lebeau, recount the complex and multi-chaptered histories of the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende and the Museo Internacional de la Resistencia Salvador Allende, respectively. Interviews with French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest, Japanese author and arts professional Maeda Rei, and curator Gordon Metz and historian André Odendaal, both from South Africa, retrace the stories of the constitution of Art Contre/Against Apartheid, its two-year long journey through Japan, and the collection’s eventual delivery to South Africa.

Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti are the curators of the documentary and archival exhibitionPast Disquiet.

PART II

ON PAST DISQUIET

Kristine Khouri is an independent researcher and writer whose research interests focus on the history of arts circulation and infrastructure in the Arab world, and archival practices and dissemination. Together with Rasha Salti, she is a co-founder of the History of Arab Modernities in the Visual Arts Study Group, a research platform focused on the social history of art in the Arab world. Their current work is centered on the history of the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, which opened in Beirut in 1978, and has been transformed into their archival and documentary exhibition Past Disquiet: Narratives and Ghosts from the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, 1978, shown at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2015), the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2016), the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago (2018), and the Sursock Museum, Beirut (2018). Khouri also curated The Founding Years (1969–1973): A Selection of Works from the Sultan Gallery Archives at the Sultan Gallery, Kuwait (2012). She co-led a Digitizing Archives Workshop with Sabih Ahmed of the Asia Art Archive in Kuwait as part of Art Dubai’s Global Art Forum (2015) and co-organized the Digital Methodologies workshop at marra.tein (Beirut, 2017). Khouri has also collaborated as a researcher with artists Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige, and Walid Raad, as well as with various regional arts institutions as a writer and researcher, and as a project consultant for projects such as the Young Arab Theater Fund’s Meeting Points Festival, the Sharjah Art Foundation, Ashkal Alwan, the Saradar Collection, the Sultan Gallery Archives, and the Sursock Museum. She has contributed texts to The Road to Peace (Beirut, 2009), as well as to several publications, including Bidoun, The National (Abu Dhabi), the Art Asia Pacific Almanac,Global Art Forum 6: The Medium of Media’s publication TL;DR: Some Medium Stories (2012), Labour of Love (Palestinian Museum, 2018), and forthcoming books on Hamed Abdalla and Seta Manoukian. She was a section editor for the publication accompanying the exhibition Time Is Out of Joint (Sharjah Art Foundation, 2016). Khouri is a member of the board of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut.

Rasha Salti is an independent film and visual arts curator and writer. She has co-curated several film programs, including The Road to Damascus (with Richard Peña), a retrospective of Syrian cinema that toured worldwide (2006–08); The Calm Before the Storm: A Retrospective of Lebanese Cinema (also with Peña), which was presented at the Lincoln Center in New York (2009); Mapping Subjectivity: Experimentation in Arab Cinema from the 1960s Until Now (with Jytte Jensen), which was showcased at the MoMA in New York (2010–12); and Saving Bruce Lee: Arab and African Cinema in the Era of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy (with Koyo Kouoh) at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2018). In addition, she has curated film programs for the Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris (2012, 2013, and 2015), and for the Tate Modern in London (2011). Salti co-curated the 10th edition of the Sharjah Biennial for the Arts (2011), as well as the exhibition Past Disquiet: Narratives and Ghosts from the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, 1978, with Kristine Khouri, at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2015), the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2016), the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago (2018), and the Sursock Museum, Beirut (2018). Her articles and essays have been published in The Jerusalem Quarterly Report, Naqd, MERIP, The London Review of Books, Afterall, and Third Text, as well as in several anthologies dedicated to film, art, and culture. In 2006, Salti edited Insights into Syrian Cinema: Essays and Conversations with Filmmakers (ArteEast and Rattapallax Press), and, in 2009, she collaborated with photographer Ziad Antar on an exhibition and book titled Beirut Bereft: The Architecture of the Forsaken and Map of the Derelict. In 2010, she co-edited I Would Have Smiled: A Tribute to Myrtle Winter-Chaumeny with Issam Nassar, a book dedicated to the legacy of the British photographer and founder of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) photographic archive.

KRISTINE KHOURI RASHA SALTI

TRANSNATIONAL SOLIDARITY NETWORKS AND SPECULATIVE HISTORIES: 1960s–1980s

Predicaments and Riddles

Shortly after we met in 2008, we decided to join efforts as researchers and writers, exploring shared questions about the social history of art and modernity in the Arab world. This research project began that same year, when we came upon the catalog of the International Art Exhibition for Palestine in the library of an art gallery in Beirut.1We picked it off a shelf, perused it, and were dumbfounded. We had never heard of an exhibition of this scale and level ever having taken place in the Arab world, let alone in Beirut. The catalog seemed like a mysterious treasure. We borrowed it, scanned it, pored over it.

The International Art Exhibition for Palestine was organized by the Plastic Arts Section of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Unified Information Office, and was presented in 1978, in the basement hall of the Beirut Arab University (BAU). The catalog [FIG. 1] is in color; bilingual (Arabic and English); and includes a list of participating artists (179 individuals and one collective) organized by nationality (30); reproductions of artworks included in the exhibition (197); two quotes, one attributed to Yasser Arafat, and another to Italian artist Ennio Calabria; two texts, the first authored by Mona Saudi, the head of the Plastic Arts Section, and the second by Chilean artist Roberto Matta; several brief messages of support and solidarity from artists’ associations and political organizations; and a list of people and institutions thanked for their contributions.2

This 1978 Beirut exhibition was not the PLO’s sole exploit in the sphere of arts and culture, but it was certainly its most ambitious. The Plastic Arts Section,3 as well as the Department of Arts and National Culture, were mandated to commission, fund, and promote the production of posters, art, cinema, theater, dance, music, and publications; to organize, preserve, and exhibit folklore and cultural traditions; and to galvanize international support for the Palestinian struggle in the world of arts and culture. Between 1978 and 1980, exhibitions of traditional folk art (costume, embroidery, and crafts) toured twelve countries, mostly in Europe, to showcase the heritage of the nation.4 The PLO’s foremost challenge was to communicate a sense of peoplehood and political agency to a constituency scattered across territories—in refugee camps in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria; in the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli occupation; and throughout the diaspora. Another challenge was to mobilize international public sympathies around the legitimacy of the PLO’s cause, and to highlight the urgency of lending it support. The most effective means of countering the trauma of the dispersal of the Palestinian people was to safeguard their identity through culture and the arts. If houses were usurped, the record of having had a home would remain alive in poem and song; if the land was removed from sight by distance, its depiction would retain its visibility in myriad forms. Through the creativity of artists, poets, filmmakers, musicians, and writers, the representation of Palestinians as hapless refugees surviving on handouts was transformed, making them dignified, steadfast fighters taking charge of their own destiny. Posters were the foremost tool for the dissemination of image and narrative: lightweight, relatively cheap, quick to produce, they could reach across social classes, cities, and countries. The Plastic Arts Section reproduced artworks on posters, postcards, calendars, and holiday cards that were circulated widely. Moreover, the Union of Palestinian Artists (UPA) established Dar al-Karameh, an exhibition space in Beirut that presented work by Palestinian, Arab, and international artists. Also part of the Unified Information Office, the Palestine Film Unit produced films dedicated to the Palestinian struggle, documented everyday life in the camps, and assisted international filmmakers interested in the Palestinian cause.

We were intrigued by a phrase in Saudi’s text that claimed the artworks in the exhibition had all been donated5 to the PLO; that the collection constituted “the nucleus of the ‘Museum of Solidarity with Palestine’”; and that the plan was to “push forward the idea of establishing this museum and put up an international committee, including artists, as well as other friends, so as to put the idea into action.”6 Saudi, a Jordanian artist who was wholeheartedly engaged in the Palestinian struggle, headed the Plastic Arts Section, which was responsible for undertaking the exhibition. We interviewed her, as we did other artists, art critics, and intellectuals who lived in Beirut at the time of the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, and who were engaged in one way or another with the PLO or the Palestinian cause. We were interested in reconstituting the story of how this exhibition happened, and the context in which it took place.

An Unsettled Past

After conducting that first round of interviews, we were able to assemble bits and pieces of the story of the 1978 Beirut exhibition, but we soon realized the puzzle was far larger than we had suspected—and, more importantly, that we were delving into an unsettled past, with lingering vicissitudes and unhealed wounds, the administrative archives of which had been destroyed. We gathered recollections that we were unable to fact-check. If we were to pursue piecing together the story, we needed to come up with a framework, a strategy, and parameters.

The exhibition was scheduled to open on March 21, 1978. Exactly one week prior, on March 14, Israeli tanks rolled into Southern Lebanon and up to the outskirts of Tyre in an operation involving some twenty-five thousand troops. Its stated objective was to defend its border from Palestinian and Lebanese infiltration. The hostilities lasted a week and concluded with a UN-brokered truce. UN peacekeeping forces (UNIFIL) were deployed in the Lebanese territory to oversee the implementation of the accord.

Despite increased political instability, the exhibition opened and remained on display for longer than announced,7 a few international artists were invited to attend,8 and, defying all expectations, Yasser Arafat made an appearance. The Unified Information Office rented an apartment near its main offices where the artworks were stored after the exhibition concluded.9 The collection was intended to go on tour locally 10and internationally. In 1978, approximately one hundred of its works were exhibited in Japan;11 in 1980, some forty-three were shown at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art;12 and in 1981 and 1982, some of the Palestinian artists’ donations were exhibited in two cities in Norway.13 Palestinian artist Nasser Soumi, who assisted Saudi in organizing and setting up the exhibition, selected twenty artworks to be exhibited in the Shatila refugee camp in 1980.14

In June 1982, the Israeli military launched another campaign in Lebanon, transgressing the truce signed in 1978. The stated objective this time was to drive the PLO out of Lebanon. Beirut was besieged and shelled heavily. Another international truce was brokered in September, and the PLO relocated its respective political and military headquarters to other cities in the Arab world. During the shelling, the building where the Plastic Arts Section office was located wastargeted and thus severely damaged. All documents related to the organization of the 1978 exhibition and the plans to establish a museum were destroyed.15 The nearby building where the collection was housed was among the first to be shelled.16 The works that traveled to Tehran in 1980 were not shipped back due to airport closures in Beirut in 1981 and 1982. To this day, they remain in storage at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

Early in our inquiry, we were told the collection had been destroyed early in the invasion, but we soon learned that, after that first few days of shelling, Saudi had had the foresight to ask Abdul Hay Mosallam, a Palestinian artist (and former fida’i17) who collaborated with the Plastic Arts Section, to bring as many of the works as possible to her home in a pick-up truck, as he recalled.18 The fate of the collection has been shrouded in rumor, speculation, and hearsay ever since.19

Forensic Methodology and Speculative Historiography

In trying to understand how the International Art Exhibition for Palestine was organized, and how the artists involved in it came together, interviews were our primary source of information, guided by the catalog. We learned that Saudi contacted artists through her own network, and sometimes through embassies, to solicit donations, and that she traveled to several countries to bring artworks to Beirut.20 We traveled to Damascus and Amman, expanding the circle of interlocutors. The more answers we heard, the more questions we had; the puzzle became larger and more complex. As the Plastic Arts Section’s institutional archives had been destroyed, we found ourselves operating like detectives. The exhibition catalog was our map containing clues. We vetted the list of artists and the acknowledgements page. Some artists were very well-known worldwide, like Roberto Matta (Chile), Joan Miró (Spain), Julio Le Parc (Argentina), and Antoni Tàpies (Spain); there were also recognized Arab artists like Dia al-Azzawi (Iraq), Farid Belkahia (Morocco), Sliman Mansour (Palestine), and Mohamed Melehi (Morocco). There were also artists who were unknown to us. We noted that the largest number of participating artists hailed from France, followed by Italy, Poland, and Japan. No Arab country was in the top four. Trying to understand these numbers became a primary motive guiding our research.

Our progress took a remarkable turn when we met Claude Lazar, a French artist who lives in Paris, and who was close to Palestinian militants in Paris during the 1970s, particularly Ezzedine Kalak, the representative of the PLO in France from 1972 to 1978. Both men are acknowledged in the 1978 Beirut exhibition catalog. Lazar had played a key role in mobilizing artists in Paris to donate works to the exhibition, and when we visited his studio, he had prepared three boxes of his personal archives, containing photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, and other papers. He welcomed us enthusiastically, saying: “I have been waiting for you for thirty years.”21 Our meeting with him led us to understand a few elements that were key to the continued progress of our investigation: of the many French artists who had participated in the exhibition, most were part of the Jeune Peinture, an association of artists Lazar had been intensely involved in, and of which he was secretary general between 1976 and 1977; the PLO may have borrowed the ideas of the solidarity museum, and the museum-in-exile—an itinerant exhibition of artworks donated as the seed collection of a future museum—from the Museo Internacional de la Resistencia Salvador Allende (MIRSA). Lazar also explained in detail the ways in which many French and Paris-based international artists were contacted and how their artworks were collected; he recalled he had traveled to Beirut carrying several of them in his luggage, and attended the opening of the exhibition. We were drawn to learn more about the mechanisms of mobilization, and about the significance of the Palestinian struggle to artists in France.

In mapping the bigger picture, we recognized we were tracing a chronology of events, exhibitions, and interventions in public spaces, as well as the many ways in which artists marshaled their practice and know-how to incarnate their political engagement. The network of artists’ collectives in France led us to a network of Italian artists’ collectives, who were similarly engaged in local struggles as in international solidarity. Invited by the Venice Biennale and the municipality of Venice, three such collectives—the Collectif de peintres des pays arabes,22 L’Arcicoda,23 and the Collectif de peintres antifascistes24—staged an action in Mestre during the 1976 Venice Biennale. The collective, interactive painting intervention took place on the central square,25and was in solidarity with the victims of the massacre of Palestinian refugees in the besieged and bombarded Tal al-Za‘tar camp in Beirut’s eastern suburbs. They staged a similar intervention and small itinerant exhibitions in plazas in towns in Tuscany in the following months.26[FIG. 7–8] There were also collaborations between workers’ unions in Italy and the Brigade internationale des peintres antifascistes, which produced collective murals to denounce the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.27

Unlikely Histories of Exhibitions

As the Arab participants in the exhibition were more familiar to us, it was our strategy to pursue our investigation through their stories. After the humiliating defeat of the Arab armies in the second war with Israel in June 1967, for Arab artists, the struggle for Palestine became a metaphor for the struggle for equality, justice, freedom, a life of dignity, and the insurgency against duplicitous and corrupt Arab despots. There was no question that were a museum of solidarity with Palestine to be established, almost all Arab artists would donate artworks. Probing the selection of Iraqi artists, we noted a commonality: almost all of them had presented work at the First Arab Biennial in Baghdad in 1974, organized by the General Union of Arab Artists (UAA), and additionally a number of the artworks exhibited at the Iraqi and Moroccan pavilions at the Second Arab Biennial in Rabat traveled to Beirut two years later to become part of the International Art Exhibition for Palestine.

National artists’ unions and associations were formed across the Arab world in the 1960s and early 1970s, growing out of the basic political necessities of defending artists’ rights, creating support structures for the promotion and dissemination of their work, and solidifying existing organic bonds of fraternity across the Arab region in the interest of exploring Arab identity. The establishment of the UAA formalized networking, exchange, and cooperation among artists at the regional level. The idea was discussed at al-Mu’tamar al-‘arabi al-awwal li-l-funūn al-jamīla (First Arab Conference on Fine Arts) in Damascus in 1971, and the union was formally constituted in October 1972 at al-Mahrajān al-‘arabī al-‘awwal li-l-fann al-qawmī al-tashkīlī (First Arab Festival of National Plastic Arts), hosted by the Syrian Syndicate of Fine Arts in Damascus. Ismail Shammout, the president of the Union of Palestinian Artists (UPA), was elected the first president of the UAA, a position he retained until 1977. The UAA’s mission was grounded in promoting relations between the Arab and Third Worlds, as cited by Shammout in the Moroccan cultural review Intégral.28 The two editions of the Arab Biennial29 foregrounded the dedication of Arab artists to the Palestinian struggle. The stories of the Baghdad and Rabat biennials are notably absent from the historiography of modern Arab art, as are the stories of the artists’ unions, though today scholars are addressing them.30 A third biennial took place in Tripoli, Libya, in March 1980, and seems to have been the last; only seven countries participated.31 Perceived, perhaps, as experiments and bodies that became mired in failure, or at least that fell short of fulfilling their proclaimed aspirations, their histories were tucked away, unsettled but gathering dust.

To try to keep track of the complex web of collaborations and interactions we found ourselves untangling, we developed an exercise in which we wrote down all the various elements we had come across—names, events, exhibitions, congresses, and institutions—and we drew links between them where we had learned they were connected. This mapping was grounding. Eventually a single map became indecipherable, and we started using tracing paper to track thematic layers: artists’ collectives, associations, unions, museums-in-exile, solidarity collections. With our research around the Arab artists’ unions and biennials, a constellation of exhibitions emerged; further consideration of the connections among artists revealed that these various exhibitions whose histories were unveiling—specifically the Venice Biennale, the Salons de la jeune peinture, the Arab Biennials, Art Contre/Against Apartheid, and the International Art Exhibition for Palestine—formed a kind of conduit along which artists and artworks traveled.

The kind of forensic investigation we were undertaking seldom led us to libraries or institutional archives; rather, the bulk of information we collected was from oral testimony and personal archives. Consequently, we had to deal with stories that were occasionally conflicting, paradoxical, or unverifiable. As we followed the various threads of research, as much as possible we considered equally all the accounts we collected, even if they were contradictory, and concluded it was our role to “activate” a forgotten, or as-yet-unwritten, history, and to follow the paths that led to other histories. The act of remembering being invariably a form of self-mythologizing, and so embedded in affect, we often awoke old enmities, wounds, loyalties, and affinities. We resisted, to the extent possible, being dragged into lingering disputes, and rather than arbitrate between “truth” and “lies,” falsehoods and fiction, we were finely tuned to the ways interlocutors wanted to recount the histories they had witnessed and shaped, and how they wished to author, and write themselves into them. Our inquest was straightforward. We asked artists if they remembered: the exhibition itself; giving or collecting artworks for it; their motivation in selecting the particular work they had donated; and who had contacted them with regard to their proposed participation. Often, the first answer was a blank, or a vague and distant memory. We used prompts (images and documents we had compiled); invariably, images sparked other images and anecdotes. We also asked about the relevance of the Palestinian cause to the interviewees’ artistic practice, and how it evolved into political engagement in defense of other causes. Soon, a cartography of anti-imperialist and liberation struggles that intertwined local social and economic justice battles began to materialize.

Revisiting the Canon: Museums-in-Exile

In our interview with him, Palestinian artist Samir Salameh, who has lived in France since 1974, recalled proposing that Arab artists should lobby museums worldwide to dedicate space in their collections and exhibitions to Palestinian art, given that Palestinian artists could not have a museum for their patrimony. He presented the motion at the the First Arab Festival of National Plastic Arts in Damascus in 1972, but it did not win consensus. He also told us he shared the idea with Ezzedine Kalak, after Salameh moved to Paris. Alongside Mona Saudi’s version of how the Beirut exhibition came to be, Salameh’s anecdote was a segue to another version of the exhibition’s genesis: namely, that the idea for a future museum was borrowed from the model of the “museum-in-exile,” or an itinerant solidarity collection, as had been initiated by exiled Chilean artists and activists, and the groups that coalesced around them. This other version begins with Kalak meeting Claude Lazar after meeting at a Politique Hebdo event in 1974.

As a staunchly autonomous and anti-establishment artists’ organization, the Jeune Peinture attracted French artists from the Left and radical Left, and adopted uncompromising positions after May ’68. It also welcomed international artists who had been granted political asylum after fleeing dictatorships in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Greece, Portugal, and Spain, to name a few. These French and exiled artists joined forces in various collective configurations to protest the US intervention in Vietnam, Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, the apartheid regime in South Africa, the lack of social security for artists, the gentrification of neighborhoods in their cities, and hostility aimed at immigrants, among other issues. They painted placards and banners, designed and printed posters, painted murals, and staged actions. They organized exhibitions in public spaces, created independent salons that were entirely outside the art market system, and, last but not least, they contributed to the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, as well as other museums-in-exile.

After he was elected president, Salvador Allende faced resolute opposition from the Chilean media, which was controlled by right-wing political parties. To counter the campaign to undermine confidence in the Chilean economy, he undertook several initiatives to demonstrate there was international support for the model of democratic socialism Chilean society had achieved. One of these initiatives was the Museo de la Solidaridad, which was inaugurated in 1972 with an exhibition of works donated by artists around the world. A year earlier, Allende had signed a call to artists that was disseminated by the International Committee of Artistic Solidarity. From 1971 to 1973, 674 works were donated in support of the via chilena al socialismo. With the coup of September 11, 1973, works were put into storage in various institutions. After the coup, a number of prominent exiles, artists, and intellectuals, among them José Balmes, Pedro Miras, Mário Pedrosa, and Miguel Rojas Mix, fled to Paris, and decided to launch a second call for artists to donate works for a new iteration of the museum. They formed a general secretariat with Miria Contreras, who had gone into exile in Cuba, and who acted as the secretariat’s executive coordinator from the Casa de las Américas in Havana. The mission of the solidarity museum continued under a new name—Museo Internacional de la Resistencia Salvador Allende (International Museum of Resistance Salvador Allende—MIRSA)—and was an itinerant exhibition conceived of as a museum-in-exile. [FIG. 10] Committees entrusted with collecting and exhibiting artworks were formed in Colombia, Cuba, Finland, France, Italy, Mexico, Panama, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United States, and Venezuela. The collections grew with the help of artists, many of whom had participated in the first call or were exiled Chileans.32

Prior to collecting donations for the 1978 Beirut exhibition, Lazar had donated a painting to MIRSA that captured the reality of Palestinian refugees in the Tal al-Za‘tar camp on the eastern outskirts of Beirut.33 Gontran Guanaes Netto, a Brazilian artist living in France, who donated works to MIRSA and the Palestinian collection, was a member of the Artists of the World Against Apartheid Committee, and was also an organizer of a collection in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua. French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest had donated a serigraph to the 1978 Beirut exhibition depicting a black family standing behind a barbed-wire fence, which he had drawn in 1974 to protest the twinning of his native city of Nice with Cape Town. Pignon-Ernest was inspired by the MIRSA initiative to create a museum-in-exile to denounce apartheid. In 1979, he and Antonio Saura, a Spanish painter living in exile in Paris, initiated the Art Contre/Against Apartheid collection—another museum-in-exile—through Association of Artists of the World Against Apartheid, which was formally established in 1982, and was supported by the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid. In recent years, Pignon-Ernest has been involved in the establishment of a new collection of international art for a future museum for Palestine with the Palestinian delegation at UNESCO.34

When interviewing Julio Le Parc and Gontran Guanaes Netto, we learned that the museum in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua, which was sparked after the Sandinista revolution wrested control over the country in 1979, also had significant intersections with MIRSA in terms of organizers and participating artists. In 1980, Ernesto Cardenal, the minister of culture of the first Sandinista government, asked Carmen Waugh to undertake the project with Virginia Espinoza, who was the Nicaraguan cultural attaché in Rome. Waugh was a Chilean gallery owner and important cultural figure who lived in exile in Argentina, Italy, Nicaragua, and Spain after the 1973 coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power. Prior to her involvement in the Nicaragua project, Waugh had played a significant role in MIRSA. Waugh went on to become the director of the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende (MSSA), the current iteration of the solidarity museum, upon the repatriation of the different MIRSA collections in 1991, a position she held until 2005.

The bulk of the collection for the future Nicaraguan museum took shape in Paris and Madrid in December 1981. In Paris, the exhibition Art pour le peuple de Nicaragua (Art for the People of Nicaragua) was presented at the Musée d’art et d’essai, and was inaugurated by Jack Lang, the minister of culture at the time. [FIG. 11–12] The works were then sent from Europe to Managua thanks to Lang. In parallel, Mercedes Gordillo, a Nicaraguan writer and arts organizer, was in Mexico, where she gathered artworks in solidarity with the triumph of the revolution. Other artists donated work from Venezuela at around the same time. On December 9, 1982, the museum was inaugurated by Daniel Ortega Saavedra at the Teatro Popular Rubén Darío in Managua, as the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Managua/Solidaridad con Nicaragua.The collection was displayed for a short time; lacking a proper home, it moved around throughout the 1980s, and was expanded with new Nicaraguan donations, mail art, and donations from exhibitions organized in Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Mexico that were sent to Managua. The museum was eventually renamed the Museo Julio Cortázar in honor of the writer and his involvement in the collection and support for the country. Today, while some works are on display, most of the collection remains in storage at the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura in Managua, under the care of the Instituto Nicaragüense de Cultura. Opposition to dictatorships and US invasions during the 1980s was strong, especially among US artists, who were mobilized to raise awareness, express their solidarity, and support popular resistance in Central America.35 As we traced connections among the artists participating in the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, each of whom was involved in one of these museums-in-exile that were hooked into a network of collaboration, exchange of resources, knowledge, and access, there emerged in our picture a wider, transnational meshwork, composed of artists committed to political struggles, and of militants who could not imagine conducting their struggles without them.

Invisible Maps of Solidarity Connecting Artists

In the Western Europe of the Cold War period, the artists in the networks we were looking at gravitated around or were affiliated with the radical Left. In the years following May ’68, the artists of the Jeune Peinture sharpened their political engagement and its manifestations in their practice. They formed collectives that brought artistic interventions into the heart of local and international social and political struggles. Radical, subversive, and confrontational, these collectives employed different modes of production, representation, aesthetic language, and creative subjectivity, and produced works that were invariably seen outside the conventional sites of the art system. a number of the collectives, and the artists participating in them, were involved in the Jeune Peinture between 1968 and 1978.36 Only one collective, the Malassis, was listed in the 1978 Beirut exhibition catalog; many of the Jeune Peinture artists, however, gave works to the exhibition as individuals, so the catalog’s list of names masks the various other collectives in which they were involved. In echo, a number of the Italian artists participating in the exhibition belonged to L’Alzaia, whose practice and actions were notably similar to the collectives that sprang from the Jeune Peinture. Another Italian collective, L’Arcicoda, participated in the 1976 Salon de la jeune peinture, while the actions of L’Alzaia were part of the Italian pavilion at the 1976 Venice Biennale. In the case of the Jeune Peinture, L’Arcicoda, and L’Alzaia, we expected to find institutional archives in France and Italy. This turned out not to be the case, and a considerable number of the artists in question were outside the canon, annals, and databases of art history from the 1970s and 1980s, because they were not part of an avant-garde movement. They receded into the shadows because their formal practice did not “revolutionize” or challenge the languages and forms of art, and their political positions overwhelmed their practice. More significantly, they positioned themselves outside the market, even if they rented exhibition spaces and ateliers, and sold paintings, posters, and prints. We came to realize that we were unearthing a marginalized art history, one that existed outside the market and has yet to be written into the canon.

The context was entirely different on the other side of the Iron Curtain, where international solidarity was a stated creed and official policy. One of the principal terms that has animated the heart of our project (and of the worldwide anti-imperialist movement of the 1960s and 1970s) is international solidarity, with all the complex, multilayered connotations it takes on in the context of the Cold War. On the one hand, international solidarity was a state-sponsored official instrument, subservient to diplomacy and thus too often dismissed with cynicism. On the other, solidarity was an expression of radical grassroots politics, and thus hailed as genuine empathy. At risk of being overlooked between these two positions is the lived experience of artists engaged in solidarity actions. In the Eastern Bloc, international solidarity with anti-colonial liberation and/or anti-imperialism was often conducted under the aegis of associations or committees whose name carried the demonym African, Asian, and Latin American, picking up on the legacy of tri-continental congresses, events, and exhibitions, and the Non-Aligned Movement. In the countries that adhered to the Eastern Bloc, these solidarity bodies received Vietnamese leftist political exiles during the war in Vietnam, as well as Argentinian, Brazilian, and Chilean exiles fleeing the US-supported military dictatorships in their respective countries. For Palestinian refugees, who were stateless and who carried official identity documents provided by the UN body overseeing their subsistence,37 they were a vital means for movement outside refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the Occupied West Bank and Gaza, allowing them to accept scholarships, and pursue higher education and professional training.

In the context of the Cold War contest for world domination, the PLO had pledged loyalty to the Soviet Bloc, and received support at several levels, including the recognition of its right to liberate Palestine through armed struggle. Moreover, Soviet cultural diplomacy, which awarded scholarships to students from the so-called Third World to study in the USSR and other Warsaw Pact countries, was particularly attentive to the case of Palestinians. The tri-continental bodies were also the umbrella under which the PLO was permitted to establish representation offices in a number of communist European states.38 Representation offices operated like proto-diplomatic missions; mandated with overseeing the affairs of Palestinians living in the countries in which they functioned, they maneuvered to strengthen ties of cooperation between various Palestinian unions and groups and their local counterparts, and mediate between the PLO and national governments. So, for instance, journalists employed in the Palestinian national news agency were sent for training in photography and cinematography in the German Democratic Republic (GDR),39 and the UPA set up artist exchange programs with the GDR artists’ union.

The third-largest number of artists who participated in the International Art Exhibition for Palestine were Polish. In addition, a short statement about the Polish artists’ work was published in the catalog. We were intent on elucidating the grounds or circumstances behind the remarkable number of participating Polish artists, as well as learning who they were. There was, however, a dimension to researching countries that were part of the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War that we had to navigate: namely, that we were reviving a recent and unsettled past, the legacies of which impacted people’s present in radically different ways. Generally, we sensed an eagerness to fold away that past, and that there had not been a transmission of formal and informal knowledge between generations of experts.