Fahed Halabi is one of the artists in the Bread and Roses exhibition
The Jerusalem Post Newspaper, 30th December 2016
By Ori J. Lenkinski
In Israel, the word “coexistence” is bandied around a lot. For some it represents an ideal, while for others an impossibility. For Nir Nader and Dani Ben- Simhon, the founders and curators of the annual Bread and Roses art exhibition, coexistence is a reality. This year, the Worker’s Advice Center and Sindiyana of the Galilee will hold the 11th Bread and Roses Exhibition and Art Sale at the Tel Aviv Artists’ Studio.
More than 350 artists donated works this year, and the proceeds of the sale will go to the Women and Work project. For artist Fahed Halabi, the goals of this project strike very close to home. The seventh of 14 children, Halabi observed his mother throughout the years. Her life and the struggles she encountered opened his eyes to widespread inequality, which became the inspiration for one of his series, titled “Women.” Two of the paintings from this series will be on sale over the weekend.
Faled, 46, was born and raised in a Druse community in the Golan Heights. He moved to Tel Aviv as a young man to study art and from there to Germany, where he currently lives. “My work about women comes from my personal life, my home, my mother who worked very hard in life,” says Halabi over the phone. “Her whole life she just worked and had children. When I grew up and started to understand life, I automatically and spontaneously identified with her. My work stems from there, from identifying with the woman who is closest to me. With time, I saw that there isn’t equality and there isn’t freedom for women. And I don’t mean just in fundamentalist places but everywhere – in Israel, too. A lot of women are living under fundamentalism, even if they’re living in a democratic and open nation.”
Halabi’s family is strongly connected to the arts. In fact, two of his sisters donated works to Bread and Roses. The Women and Work initiative, of which Sindiyana of the Galilee is a major part, provides practical training for Arab women in a variety of fields. Many of the leaders of the program began as trainees and have now found gainful employment. “When I was a student in Tel Aviv, I met Dani and Nir. From the beginning, I got that they were nice and positive and that their political beliefs were like mine, that they were from the real Left. That speaks to me.
They want peace and equality, not as a slogan but as a real thing. I knew that the goal of the exhibition was positive and that it helps women; I saw that it’s a good place to donate. Beyond the donation of artists, it is a social and cultural manifest of Jews and Arabs that repeats itself each year, and it presents the possibility to work and live together. This event is really the right place to give to fulfill coexistence,” says Halabi.
One More Round
Fahed Halabi: One More Round
Curator: Leah Abir, RawArt gallery | 3 Shvil Hameretz, Tel Aviv, Israel
4th August - 10th September, 2016
One More Round is Fahed Halabi's first solo show at RawArt Gallery, and it takes place 6 years after the artist's last solo show in Israel. This exhibition contains paintings and video works that predominantly revolve around the theme of the construction site. The construction site functions in Halabi's work in a way that differs from the conventional representations of this motif within the history of art created in Israel. Such representations are usually characterized by a romanticism of the "in-between" (between construction and destruction), by a symbolic approach that uses this theme to either glorify the Zionistic construction project or to point at its peccancy, or by a formalist enchantment by the banality of the everyday or by the order and organic appearance of constructive or mechanical elements. In Halabi's work, on the other hand, the construction site functions as an arena of a dead-end political absurd. The artist finds himself within this arena, while attempting to observe it from the outside. This is what the construction site has in common with other themes that Halabi had previously addressed in his work, such as the official portraits of politicians, and the backstage of the restaurant kitchen.
"How Much is a Construction Worker's Life Worth?: 6000 NIS and a Few Months of Community Service" cries a headline of an article in 'Haaretz' newspaper which deals, once more, with the tragic and disregarded deaths of construction workers, many times a result of a long fall off a crane or a scaffolding. The construction site is an arena in which the inhumane sides of capitalism and ideology meet. In recent years, both in Israel and around the world, it became an emblem of social and economic polarization characterizing contemporary society, revealing the crimes behind this polarization at their utmost glory. As such, it also became a site around which social and cultural protests could revolve.
For many years now, Halabi has been looking into the forms and structures of the construction site, as well as into the social relations that it forges. He depicts its machines and materials using realistic and formalist strategies, extracting these elements from a specific place, isolating them and placing them in an aesthetic territory which contains pop, hyper and symbolist coordinates, without easily falling into either stylistic category. The artist's repetitive return to different construction sites, a repetition implied by the exhibition title, is a stubborn one. In his works, grids of floor tiles and sky-crossing cranes trace the outlines of e. as if it was the world in its entirety, while generating a second political absurd, in which the action of painting follows that of the construction worker's.
Fahed Halabi writes about this series of works: "It is an attempt to confront the aesthetic dimensions of a place which seems to be devoid of any sense of aesthetics; an attempt to discuss class and socio-economical political conditions, in the context of the power relations that make up contemporary work. These power relations are economically allied to the reality of a colonial state. One cannot ignore the uneven relationships these structures form, which could be compared to a master-slave relations, even though they fit so nicely into contemporary market rules … The method of painting I apply in this series not only lacks the excitement of expressionistic gestures, but it also excludes the human factor – a basic stimulator of emotional identification. It's as if these paintings are fragments that exist independently and separately from the person that created them, and that have the power to represent themselves. To conclude, I was trying to create a parallel between the value of work in two different fields: art, and construction work.
قيّمة: ليئا أبير
"جولة إضافية" هو المعرض الفردي الأول لفهد حلبي في غاليري رو-أرت، بعد مرور 6 سنوات على تنظيم آخر معرض فردي للفنان في إسرائيل. حلبي، الذي يعيش في السنوات الأخيرة في هامبورغ، ألمانيا، يعرض في هذا المعرض رسومات وأعمال فيديو انتجها خلال السنوات الأخيرة، وتدور كلها حول موضوع ورشة البناء.
يصف حلبي في أعماله ورشة البناء بما يتجاوز تمثيلاتها المعهودة في الفن الذي يتم إنتاجه في اسرائيل، والتي تتميز على وجه العموم برومانسية بينيّة (بين البناء والهدم(، بترميز يُستخدم كوسيلة تمجيد لمشروع البناء الصهيوني أو الاشارة الى خطاياه، وبانبهار شكلي من تفاهة اليومي أو عضوية البنية والآلة ونظامهما. مقابل هذا، فإن ورشة البناء لدى فهد حلبي هي حلبة للعبث السياسي لا مخرج منها، بل يجد الفنان نفسه في داخلها حين يحاول التأمل فيها من خارجها. وهكذا، فإن هذه الورشة تشبه البورتريهات الرسمية لسياسيين، ومطبخ المطعم اللتي تناولها الفنان في أعمال سابقة.
"ثمن حياة عامل البناء :6000 شيكل وأعمال بخدمة الجمهور،" يصرخ عنوان تقرير نشرته صحيفة "هآرتس"، التي تناولت مرة أخرى موت عمال البناء المأساوي والمنسي، غالبًا بسبب السقوط عن علو سقالة أو رافعة. ورشة البناء هي حلبة تلتقي فيها الجوانب اللا إنسانية للرأسمالية والايديولوجيا، وتنتج عَبَثاً سياسياً في ذروته. ففي اسرائيل مثلما في دول أخرى تحولت ورشة البناء في السنوات الأخيرة الى الموقع الذي تمثل ظروفه الفجوات الاجتماعية، والجرائم التي تنطوي عليها بامتياز، وبالتالي تحوّلت الى موقع محتمل لأن تنطلق حوله احتجاجات ثقافية واجتماعية. فهد حلبي يتناول هذا الموقع – بما فيه من صور، بنية وعلاقات اجتماعية تُنسج ضمنه – منذ سنوات طويلة، بوسائط مختلفة وزوايا نظر مختلفة. وهو يجسّد الآلات والمواد بورشة البناء في استراتيجيات واقعية وشكلانية، بما يعزلها ويستخرجها من الموقع العينيّ، ويبقيها داخل حيّز جمالي توجد فيه أنساق من الفن الجماهيري، الواقعية المفرطة والرمزية، لكنه لا يتموضع بارتياح في أيّ واحد من تلك الأنساق. إن عودة حلبي الى هذا الموقع/الورشة، الذي يتطرق اليه المعرض أيضًا، هي عودة عنيدة. شبكات من البلاط الأرضي والرافعات التي تخترق السماء، تعلّم ورشة البناء كعالم بأكمله، وتخلق لحظة عبثية وسياسية اضافية، حيث تأتي في أعمال الرسم بع عمل عامل البناء.
يكتب حلبي عن سلسلة الأعمال: "إنها محاولة لتناول البعد الجمالي في مكان يخلو ربما من الجمال، وهي محاولة للحديث عن الموقع الاجتماعي والخلفيات الاقتصادية والسياسية، خاصة في ظل واقع العمالة في مجتمعنا المرتبط اقتصاديا بواقع الدولة الكولونيالية، حيث لا يمكن تجاهل شكل هذه العلاقة غير المتكافئة والتي يمكن مقاربتها - ولو بطريقة فجة - بعلاقة السيد بالعبد، على الرغم من تناغمها مع قوانين السوق المعاصر. لقد حاولت من خلال ذلك توثيق هذا التشابك بقالب تشكيلي مكون من عدة لوحات رُسِمت بأسلوب واقعي، مسطَّح، حيادي و"جميل" يخلو من الانفعالات التعبيرية في طريقة الرسم وعبر استبعاده للعنصر البشري كمحفِّز أولي للتضامن العاطفي؛ وكأن هذه المقاطع مستقلة عن الإنسان الذي صنعها وهي قادرة على تمثيل ذاتها بذاتها، وكأنّي حاولت أن أوازي بين قيمة وطبيعة العمل في حالتي الرسم والعمل بالبناء".
In his new show, Fahed Halabi is less angry
Haaretz Newspaper, 8th November 2016
One More Round
Curator: Leah Abir. RawArt gallery | 3 Shvil Hameretz, Tel Aviv, Israel
Fahed Halabi's rage has transformed into a pensive stance in his new show. He is focusing on the act of painting, seemingly devoid of a political dimension.
Fahed Halabi's previous show, titled "Yallah Bye" (Goodbye), took place just before he left Israel for Hamburg. Now, six years later, Halabi presents "One More Round," centered on the theme of construction work that has preoccupied him throughout his creative life. The show consists of 11 paintings, all depicting a construction site. The painter's gaze focuses on material surfaces of concrete, bricks, wooden planks, stone and wood textures, and grids of beams and iron rods. The paintings avoid descriptions of human presence. A syntax of materials and planes represents the construction site, a tapestry of gray and brown shades against a turquoise sky.
In a black-and-yellow painting, three identical apartment towers are seen through a window in a construction site, with crisscrossed iron rods laid over it, like prison bars (Grid, 2010). Another painting, a sensual union of a vertical wooden beam and a concrete wall against a blue background, is a visual encounter between colors, materials, and planes (Untitled, 2010). A white helmet on the ground alludes to the presence of death that lurks in construction sites, where life is cheap (Untitled, 2010). Gray curbstones lie diagonally on a bed of sand, next to others that are set lengthwise - an unfinished, unsolved puzzle (Untitled, 2010). An orange crane rises over the treetops like the neck of a giraffe (Crane, 2016). Already in 2006, Halabi created the video work To You with Love, in which he documented himself as a construction worker, wearing a builder's belt hung with tools and dancing like a belly dancer, her pelvis shaking a scarf covered with jangling coins. In 2009, he presented the video work Sheinkin Meltchet in the show "Men in the Sun" at the Herzliya Museum. In the video, the camera focused on the artist's hand, an ars-poetical gesture that belongs in art history. It is about the uniqueness of the creator's handwriting – in this case, a hand holding a plastic pipe through which cement pours onto a roof in a Tel Aviv construction site. The movements of the pipe evoke a dance or Jackson Pollock's action painting in his famous drip works. The curator Tal Ben-Tzvi wrote, "Like a virtuoso painter, Halabi controls the flow of the cement, adjusts it, and fills the cracks with it. The cement spreads, runs, dribbles, and drips sensually all over the roof as if on a wide canvas."
At the time he also created Working Day, together with Alaa Farahat, a video work depicting the construction of a synagogue for Georgian immigrants in Ashdod. The camera follows the artificial, eccentric building (Corinthian columns in the middle of a typical Israeli apartment-block neighborhood), showing the sculptor-like actions of the builders – chiseling, mixing mortar and water, polishing. At the same time it listens to the conversations of the workers, exposing bitter class-consciousness and becoming a horrific fable of the Palestinian condition. One worker tells a story of the 'most amazing death,' about a man who had been shot while carrying his brother's body.
Alongside works concerned with construction, Halabi has also made the video work Yuda, which documents the artist as a kitchen worker in an inexpensive restaurant, on the eve of Purim ("The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honor."). He also made Tefillin, in which he performs the ceremony at a Habad curbside stand, wearing a yarmulke and saying the blessing, an undiscriminating participant. He also painted a series of portraits of Israeli female ministers and members of the Knesset (Tzipi Livni, Ruhama Avraham, Dalia Itzik, and others) in an overly formal manner, alluding both to portraits of leaders in regimes that impose ruler-adulation and to passionate paintings that turn passion into caricature. Halabi adopts the identity of the suspect in most of his works. The irony is established by the over-internalization of the collectively imagined, by realizing the fantasy of the master, by speaking from the position of the one who submits completely to being the "Arab in Israeli art," the subject of propaganda. And yet despite the alleged submission, his works thrust Zionism's racial stereotypes in the viewer's face, alongside 'inappropriate' sexual allusions aimed by unauthorized subjects (an Arab man desiring a right-wing member of Knesset) and at improper subjects (a construction worker as a sexual object). They speak for the 'minority,' who looks sarcastically at the beautiful ideologies that are blind to the fact that he is their implementer through his body, his youth, his temporary work; the implementation is realized in full, overdone.
In the current show, a pensive stance seems to have replaced the rage. The point of view of the laborer is not enlisted here to play a joke at the expense of the master's world and is not limited to the standing of the Arab in Jewish-Israeli society. Rather, it has acquired the character of a painting about painting. Halabi paints scenes from construction sites with neither workers nor contractors. There are no conflicts regarding ownership of the land, building permits, the grand vision of rebuilding the Land of Israel and the ethnic origin of the builders, no workers falling to their death, no real-estate bubble, no specific context, and no reference to the political situation. He focuses on planes and textures, colors and compositions, a hyperrealist painterly act that comes close the edge of the geometrical abstract. "The method of painting avoids expressionist titillation, and the human factor has been removed, it being the primary motive for emotional identification," he writes in the accompanying text. "it's as if these fragments exist independently and separately from their creator in their ability to represent themselves, as if I've tried to create a parallel correlation of work and its nature in both fields: art and construction."
Halabi has given up the flat, poster-like dimension of his earlier work, as well as the cartoonish aspect that used to dominate them. Instead, he added precision and sensitivity that turn elements of the construction site into 'landscape.' "This is an attempt to address the aesthetic dimension in a place that perhaps is devoid of any aesthetics," he writes.
The show includes two video works. In one, Halabi has tied the camera to a cement mixer, so that the recorded reality revolves on an axis, and through it, we look at the world from the point of view of the globe. In the second, the artist (the only human presence in the show) is drilling his dog in three languages – a mixture of Hebrew, German, and Arabic. This outwardly light-headed work holds the quintessential exploration of mechanisms of obeisance to an unspoken command or those of erotic and political manipulation. Is the submissive dog, obeying commands in three languages, a metaphor for the artist who tries to bridge gaps in the societies within which he lives? Is Halabi showing the biographical passage and its attendant confusion, as in 'not knowing which language to speak?' In addition to substituting the strong political dimension of the painting for the formalistic one, the video also lost the sting of the earlier works; it has been replaced by sad humor, along the lines of "old dog with a new trick."
Foreign Body: The artist Fahed Halabi is not trying to be the "good Arab"
Fahed Halabi: One More Round
RawArt gallery | 3 Shvil Hameretz, Tel Aviv, Israel
Fahed Halaby has slammed the door on Israel a moment after closing his first solo show, "Yalla Bye (goodbye)." He is visiting now with his show "One More Round," which deals with construction sites, where he has worked for twenty years. Concerns about foreignness? Don't make him laugh.
When Fahed Halabi left Israel, seven years ago, he was certain he would not show there again. He named his first solo show in Israel, at the Midrasha Gallery, "Yalla Bye (goodby)." Immediately after the show, he packed his bags and left for France, angrily, according to him. In a text for the show, he wrote, "the Israeli Left wished to identify with the suffering of another people, but with minimal risk and sacrifice and in the most ridiculous, ironic, superficial way, which allows it to be rid of the traditional burden of guilt."
After two years in France Halabi settled in Hamburg, Germany. Despite the difficulties, he is at ease in Germany: "there is always hardship, especially in the beginning. I arrived there at age 42, not 20 anymore. And yet this has been an adventure for me." Halabi now returns to Israel for a new solo show, at the Raw Art Gallery, titled "Another Round. "I have come back in a good mood. The distance has neutralized me and made me a little less angry," he says.
In the new show, he presents a series of works that has begun in 2009. The series focuses on construction sites, and he claims the works are biographical rather than political. "I have worked in construction for twenty years since I was a child. My older brother was a contractor, and this has been a part of my life." While studying at the Midrasha Art School, I worked in construction to help pay my tuition. I've always lived between the two worlds, and the paradox of working in construction and painting is very much on my mind." The show features two video works and a series of almost abstract paintings. "It made the most sense to show portraits of laborers, but I didn't want that. I wanted to be distant, not to evoke empathy. I wanted to suppress the personal dimension."
While the paintings are charged and might be interpreted as defying the genre of social realism, popular in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s, Halabi lets himself be a little humorous in the video works. In Mercedes," for example, an amusing homage to Beuys's I love America and America loves me, he projects his identity crisis on a German shepherd who is responding violently to words in Hebrew and Arabic.
Halabi (46) was born in Magdal Shams, in the Golan Heights, to a Druze family living on occupied Syrian territory. He felt torn between identities his entire life. He has trouble answering questions about how he defines himself. "This is a complex and changing question. Today I feel a bit German, and maybe Syrian to a certain extent, especially after the revolution in Syria. However, there are Israeli components too, having been born and studied here.
Q.: So you won't mind being defined as an Israeli artist?
A.: It makes me uncomfortable, but they can say what they wish/ Mostly I define myself as an Arab artist. If you ask me about being Arab, I Don't believe in nationalism. I don't care about these definitions. Look what happened to them. They can't sink any lower. The are stuck in the mud. This doesn't come from feelings of inferiority. I've always been proud to be Arab.
Q.: Isn't life in Germany frustrating? Don't you feel like a stranger?
A.: I don't care any longer. In Israel, I reached a stage when I felt alien to the point of indifference, but in Germany, I am a stranger among many strangers. It is better to be a stranger among strangers than to feel like a stranger in your homeland.
Q.: And even though you haven't been in Israel for years now, the topics of your work didn't change much.
A.: They have changed, and there are many beginnings of projects. But I'm still preoccupied with the world of construction. Every time I pass by a construction site I stop and ask for permission to take pictures. It still interests me. Besides, I never showed this project in its entirety.
في معرض الفنان فهد حلبي في تل أبيب
أعمال من القلب .. أعمال من العقل
2016 , بقلم: مرزوق الحلبي
في المرة الأولى التي تعرّفت فيها على الفنان فهد حلبي ابن مجدل شمس في الجولان المُحتلّ هي عندما خصص ملحق "هآرتس" في نهاية الأسبوع له ولرسوماته عدة
صفحات. كان هذا قبل أكثر من عشر سنوات. وقد كانت أقواله ورسوماته هناك والضجة التي أثارتها الرسومات تحديدا نقطة فاصلة ليست في حياته الفنية فحسب، بل في حياته الشخصية، أيضا. فالنساء العاريات الجميلات
كنّ من الإغواء بحيث أنهن أثرن حفيظة أناس كُثر وكنَّ يببا في دخوله حربا على حرية ريشته وخياله وإبداعه. وقد اختار في إثر ما نشأ من هذه التجربة أن يهاجر ولو بشكل مؤقّت. لملم أغراضه خاصة عدّة فنّه،
وسافر إلى فرنسا التي انتقل منها إلى ألمانيا حيث استقرّ في هامبورغ يعيش ويُبدع. ثم كان لقائي الثاني بأعماله قبل ثامني سنوات تقريبا في متحف هرتسليا للفنون المعاصرة حيث نظمت الصديقة طال بن تسفي
معرضا لمبدعين عرب بعنوان "رجال في الشمس". كان لفهد بينها عمل فيديو آرت شدّني واستغرقني كوني مثله عملت لفترة من حياتي متنقلا في ورش البناء. ثم جاء الفيسبوك ليجمعنا على فِكرة فنية وفلسفية واحدة وإن
نأت بيننا المسافات، مؤدّاها أن لا شيء يعدل حقّ الإنسان في عيشة كريمة وفي حريات على مدّ النظر وأن كل ما استُعمل في ثقافتنا وثقافات الآخرين لإلغاء هذه الحقوق أو دوسها باطل من الأباطيل!
استعرض هذا للإشارة إلى أنني أتتبع مسيرة فهد منذ 15 عاما وهو لا يعرف ذلك سوى في السنة الأخيرة. ومن هنا فإن خبر إقامة معرض له في تل أبيب مؤخرا في جاليري "RAWART"، جعلني على فرح عظيم أنني سأشاهد أعماله الجديدة وأني سألقاه هو لأول مرة وأقول له كل ما اختزنه عنه وعن أعماله كما انعكست لدي.
وفهد، كفنان اصيل، ينطلق إلى أعماله من ذاته وبيئته وهواجسه. هكذا، كانت كل أعماله منذ درس الفنون التشكيلية والبصرية في تل أبيب إلى معرضه الأخير. لكن الأصالة وحدها لا تكفي لتوفّر العمل الفني. وهنا يأتي العنصر الخاص بفهد وأعماله. فإذا أخذنا أعماله في المعرض الأخير ـ أنظر الصور المرفقة ـ سنكتشف أنه يستطيع أخذ أي "مادة" أو "موضوع" أو فكرة ليحوّلها بين يديه إلى فن راقٍ. فأعماله الأخيرة مأخوذة من مشاهد أعمال البناء وورشه هنا وهناك. وإذ بهذه الأعمال التي قمنا بها بأنفسنا أو نصادفها في الحي أو المدينة المجاورة تصير بعد المرور في عدسته أعمالا في مُنتهى الجمالية والإحكام والإدهاش لتنتفي عنها صفات وتمثيلات عادة ما تتداعى إلى مخيلتنا عندما نراها أو نسمع الحديث عنها.
للرافعة وتلك السلة المتدلية بين سماء وأرض وسط فضاء أزرق يصير لها في عدسته وبعد عنايته معاني أخرى تتصل بنا ونتصل بها. كذلك ذاك الخشب المشدود إلى بعضه قالبا ـ "طوبار" ـ إذ به غير شكل عما عهدناه. مقطع في منتهى الاستيطقا والعذوبة. كذلك رصف أرضية بالحجارة المقدودة يصير عنده شكلا من الفنون البصرية اللافتة. لا أقول أنه اكتشف الدولاب من جديد أو أنه حقق الخارق في أعماله لكنه بالتأكيد استطاع أن يأتي بعالمه ـ عالم ورش البناء التي قضى فيها نحو عقدين من حياته ـ إلينا بأشكال يجعل من هذه الأعمال الشاقة صورا وتمثيلات تروق للرائي وتستهويه. ينزع من اعمال البناء خواصها المألوفة ويُكسبها خواص جديد مُدهشة. ربما هي الطريقة الأمثل للفنان أن يجمّل العالم الصعب أو هي القُدرة المحفوظة لقلّة التي تلتقط في اللحظة الخاطفة مشهدا جميلا تزيّن به كياننا. أو هي طريقته إلى احتواء مشاغله وجهده الجسماني وترويض رائحة الباطون والإسمنت وتليين القسوة من خلال استعراض الأسرار الكامنة وراء عمارة شاهقة وحائط عالٍ.
فهد قادر في أعماله الأخيرة على تفكيك المباني والعمارات وتجزيء العمل الشاق غير المستحبّ في العادة ليقدّمه لنا قطعة قطعة معلنا أنه هو الذي "كُتب" عليه أن يعمل عشرين سنة من حياته طوبارجيا يستطيع أن يقهر صعوبة هذه المهنة بأنه يستطيع تطويعها وتفكيكها! وفي فيدو آرت من هذه المهنة الصعبة جسديا (على موقعه) سنرى فهد المتمنطق بعدّة عمله يرقص بمطرقته وحزام مساميره أمام العدسة على إيقاعات شرقية فيبدو لك أنه في سبيله إلى حفلة باذخة راقصة وليس إلى ورشة يملأه فيها الاسمنت من رأسه إلى كعبه. فهد من الفنانين الذين يستعملون تقنيات عديدة للتعبير عن فكرة في العمق. يهدم عوالم مألوفة ثم يركّبها لنا على هواه. فغذ بالعصيّ سهل!
فهد يأخذ على العموم بأسلوب التحدي الساخر مرة وبالمُرّ مرة أخرى. فحساسيته المُفرطة تقوده إلى الضحك من نفسه وثقافته ومن عمله وجهده وصعوباته. كأنه يرقص على أحزانه ويستمدّ من أساه ومشقات الحياة طاقة على الرقص. يمطّ لسانه في وجه مرآته وحياته كلها. هذه السخرية تتطور أحيانا إلى عبث واضح لكنه عذب وإن كان موجعا ولاسعا حدّ الرجفة.
فهد مُحكم تماما في إنجاز لوحاته لكن هذا الإحكام ينتهي في أعمال الفيديو ـ آرت التي تقوم على سخرية مُرّة وضحك على الحياة ـ حياته وحياتنا ـ ومنها. قد يكون لمرارته هذه ألف سبب ومصدر لكني اكتشفت أن الغُربة والاغتراب هي الأقوى في تكوين ذهنيته ومحركاته المستترة. إنها الرغبة في الصراخ بأعلى صوت في وجه العالم "أن كفى عُهرا وكفى انتهاكا لكرامة الإنسان الفرد وحقوقه في أبسطها!". فأعماله ـ الذاتية جدا ـ تصير أعمالا إنسانية عابرة للهويات لأنها تأتي ليس من يد أو تقنياته فهد بل من قلبه وعقله وعُمق أفكاره كإنسان متصل بذاته في أعمق نداءاتها وخيباتها وأفراحها وأسرارها.
"Das hat ihr Weltbild ins Wanken gebracht."
Inside of the atelierzenith online, Kultur, 30.07.2014
November 27th, 2010
The Creative Resistance Fund (CRF) is a new initiative started by the founder of freeDimensional. Currently CRF is being incubated and fiscally sponsored by freeDimensional. The Fund works in tandem with other services such as Creative Safe Haven; however, it is intended to become an autonomous fund built on an emerging principle of network philanthropy, which has sustained the work of freeDimensional over the past five years. freeDimensional is set to expire in 2015 because we feel that ten years is enough to pilot, document and transfer skills for the model of critical hosting upon which the initiative was founded in 2005. We expect that the name freeDimensional will eventually go away, but the practice of Creative Safe Haven will continue to develop and be modified at the intersection of the human rights and artist residency sectors. In its place there will be a new entity called the Creative Resistance Fund; we’ve started early because we want to pilot, build a track record, collaborate and, ultimately, show how the Fund is essential for supporting an overlooked (and under-supported) demographic of activists. By 2015 the Creative Resistance Fund will be housed at and receive technical assistance from a pre-existing, reputable foundation. In the mean time, we will continue to experiment raising resources and re-granting them to people using creativity to fight injustice. In addition to the emergency cash grants we make, we also have an artist residency, travel and living stipend combo that we re-grant in Bilbao, Spain. Now you might ask: How is this different from freeDimensional programming? When we conduct a Creative Safe Haven placement at freeDimensional, we have learned about a culture worker-in-distress from a trusted partner (organization or individual); we do research to validate the situation and then present the case to our global network of artist residencies. We usually narrow down the pool of residencies solicited by geography, proximity, visa eligibility, and good fit in terms of culture and professional needs as well as the level of support a residency can offer at the given time. This is a service we provide on demand from culture workers. Here’s how the placement in Bilbao is different: The Festival Against Censorship is an annual, weeklong event in Bilbao. As a way to support free expression year-round, the Festival offers a Creative Safe Haven space (with all expense paid) to people using creativity to fight injustice. This constitutes a demand on the part of the art space and festival. To date, we have organized residencies for Druze painter Fahed Halabi, Uzbek photographer Umida Ahkmedova, and Zimbabwe ceramicist Owen Maseko in Bilbao through this partnership with the Creative Resistance Fund.
Fahed Halabi, Fateh al-Muddaris Center for Arts | Majdal Shams, Occupied Golan Heights
23 July – 15 August, 2010
Haaretz Newspaper, August, 2008
By Uzi Tzur
“Condescending view” is a term for the dialectical relation between art and life; it implies a critical attitude towards art and its condescending approach to life. The exhibition reflects this critical attitude in a visual form through focus on the relationship between the construction work site and the artist’s studio: the worker who counts hours in order to make a living and the artist who examines this complex relationship. The exhibition is a consciousness attempt at solidarity with the self in the first place; it is also an examination of emotional and psychological situations in their social and political dimensions. Through it a series of questions arise pertaining to art, its identity and role in the society, as inseparable dimension of life.
The exhibition contains scenes that look at first as absurd, passing, and secondary—scenes from empty times in spaces that are filled with rubbish, mixed with sweat and blood. It is a visual commemoration of selected memories and photographs taken over several years.
It is an attempt to capture the aesthetic dimension of a situation devoid of beauty, to talk about status and economic and political backgrounds in our society, which is linked to the colonial state asymmetrically, in a relationship that can be approached—bluntly put—as a master-slave relationship, despite its accord with the contemporary rule of market.
“Condescending View” tries to capture this relationship in a series of realistic paintings, in a two-dimensional, unbiased, and “beautiful” way without emotional outbursts in the style of painting and without including the human as primary invoker of emotional solidarity. The scenes appear as independent of the human being who created them, capable of self-representation, as an attempt to equate the value and the nature of the work in both the studio and the construction site.
The three videos included are based in their photography and editing on the logic of the documentary. They share the above elements and concerns, in addition to an attempt to raise further questions about the issue of identity in all its conceptions, and about the sexual dimension of the conflict imposed on us, as well as of any conflict between two nations or cultures.
The Eight Greats
Time Out Tel Aviv, 3rd-10th September, 2009
By Galia Yahav
Just before the art season opens, and in honor of Time Out's annual art issue, we've decided to select who we believe to be the most brilliant artists. Some presented their work at countless exhibits this year, others haven't been active for quite some time and some are no longer with us. What the eight artists before you have in common is that their art makes us want to go to one of their exhibits tomorrow, and then talk to them a little bit. They're sexy, sometimes funny and always moving.
Fahed Halabi, Born in 1970. Graduate of HaMidrasha, HaMidrasha Gallery hosted his exhibit “Yallah Bye.” His belly dancing aroused us, his technicolor-primitive paintings of Knesset Members killed us and his video installations depicting the Arab figure trying to integrate and get by in today's Tel Aviv (“Shenkin-Melchett,” for example) moved us. Halabi joins a dynasty of Palestinian artists in Israel who deal with questions of split identity, tensions linked to location and the role that art plays in all of this, but there is no doubt that he is the only one who does so with a great deal of humor, some of it self-deprecating. His caricatures of sort complicate the seemingly obvious conceptual world of leadership and vulgarity, racism and pornography, flattery and ridicule, art and commsioned drawing, and redefine the expression “Arab Labor.” Mati Shmuelof wrote that Halabi “laughs and cries at the intersection with Ashkenazi Zionism,” and it should be noted that this is mutual. He plays up the image of the good Arab in order to make fun of work and we salute him, with our keffiyeh. Halabi's work is currently featured in the “Men in the Sun” exhibit at the Herzliya Museum.
Fahed Halabi’s exhibit, “Yallah Bye,” succeeds in deviating from its boundaries and delivering a semi-ironic jab at Israeli culture and society, but also in turning the demonization of the Arab in Israeli into artistic power. Halabi says that the seed from which the exhibit stemmed from an encounter with a young Tel Aviv woman wearing shorts and a bra with the colors of the Palestinian flag, at a demonstration against the occupation. “The action of the woman from Levontin represented, for me, the will of the Tel Aviv left to identify with the suffering of the ‘other,’ with the least amount of danger and sacrifice, and in the most ridiculous, ironic and superficial way. This allows one to shed the traditional emotional burden of blame as a result of the oppression of the other, to feel a sort of inner peace, and then to continue living as if nothing happened.” Halabi exaggerates the woman from Levontin, drawing “Natalie,” the star of the free porn magazine Banana, larger than life, with a fake chest adorned with a Palestinian flag bikini, male dragons on her tattooed arm; Halabi lashes out against all forms of male chauvenism, those who use women for their own purposes, as well as against Israeli culture, which is superficial, even in its protest.
“Lite protest” comes across in the image of a young Nordic-European, drawn softly and
very illuminated, a young man whose neck is fashionably adorned with a keffiyeh, but
the twisted local light permeates his image. And there’s also a self-portrait (in my opinion), in which the artist releases his body and soul from the chains of real life – a good illustration of his three-dimensional Palestinian perception, and in his strong manner of sitting. Especially nice is the shadow and hair between his chest and shirt, which is rolled up, giving the entire inverted body his shifted focus. Halabi presents an unholy trinity of portraits: “Limor Livnat” - who suggested that Arabic cease being one of Israel’s official languages - is drawn with sugary mockery, as an Egyptian movie star from the huge billboards of the past, as is “Tzipi Livni.” Both of their eyes emit sparks towards “Azmi Bishara,” drawn as a charming Turkish movie star, with a moustache that these days automatically raises the suspicion of all police officers. An Arab in another drawing also has a curly moustache, as he looks at us while taking off his pajamas, showing us his body – like a blown-up image from Hasamba, the image of the “bad Arab,” which Halabi exaggerates even more through the language of graffiti in public bathrooms. The circle of drawings concludes, or begins, with a “self portrait” of Halabi in the image of a cook in an industrial kitchen; the drawing is more elaborate than the others, with Renaissance qualities that grant the image of the “good Arab in his natural place” an aura of secular holiness, leading to the common sentiment – “He doesn’t look Arab at all.”
Also featured in the exhibit are two video projects, which on first impression elicit a journalistic curiosity on the artistic performance, but after reconsidering, one sees a hidden sadness in them, the sadness of a person who lives in a bisected world, trying to learn the world of the occupier. In “Phylacteries,” Halabi consents to the young Habad men who ambush Jews on the street, and is bound by the phylacteries; it is hard not to wonder what Halabi was thinking and how those Habadniks would react if they knew. In “Yehuda” we return behind the scenes of the same anonymous restaurant and through the Mizrahi versions of Purim songs, Halabi chats with Yehuda, asking him the origin of his Jewish name.
El artista druso Fahed Halabi trabaja en Bilbao, alejado de la presión política
Compromiso BBK, Boletín de Responsabilidad Social
Obra Social, 2009
Fahed Halabi, artista druso nacido en los Altos de Golán y residente en la ciudad israelí de Jaffa, es el tercer creador invitado por 'Arte y Censura'. Con esta iniciativa, bbk posibilita que artistas censurados en sus países de origen trabajen en Bilbao Arte, en espacios de total libertad, alejados de las presiones políticas. Halabi es pintor y escultor y su creatividad se plasma también a través de la fotografía y el video arte. Ha participado en catorce exposiciones colectivas y en una individual en la Medrasha Gallery de Tel-Aviv.
Fahed Halabi lleva varias semanas en Bilbao y se muestra encantado con la experiencia que está viviendo. "Aquí veo mucha libertad, la gente es muy
abierta y tengo todo lo que necesito para pintar", asegura. "Para mí, era impensable contar con tantos lienzos, ya que en Israel los tengo que hacer yo mismo y nunca son tan grandes. Estoy
terminando 17 cuadros de estilos diferentes que espero exponer en Diciembre, quizás en Bilbao y Gernika. Los cuadros que he pintado en Bilbao Arte son distintos a los que pintaba en Israel,
puesto que esta estancia me ha permitido plantearme cuestiones artísticas diferentes, alejadas de la complicada situación política que se vive en Oriente Medio, donde sólo me hago preguntas sobre
política e identidad. Aquí estoy fuera de ese estrés y consigo más libertad para crear", señala.
Fahed Halabi pertenece al pueblo druso, una confesión minoritaria musulmana que habita en una de las regiones más convulsas del planeta, en áreas del Líbano, Israel, Siria, y Jordania. "Los drusos originarios de los Altos del Golán, señala, nos sentimos árabes por cultura y lenguaje, carecemos de pasaporte y nacionalidad y en nuestros permisos de viaje figuramos como de nacionalidad indefinida ".
En Israel Halabi tiene problemas para mostrar y vender su obra ya que a los israelíes les resulta culturalmente difícil de digerir. "Recientemente algunas galerías han rechazado obras cuyas imágenes evocan figuras árabes. La impresión general es que la gente, como si viviera en una bonita, cómoda y silenciosa burbuja, no quiere hablar sobre política. Los comisarios están hartos de los palestinos, de la valla de separación, de la Intifada. El arte israelí cada vez se centra más en la estética y las galerías buscan obras de arte bonitas para que los compradores las puedan colgar en casa ".
Fahed Halabi asegura que el arte israelí, considerado por muchos abierto y liberal, no permite a los artistas árabes formar parte de él. "Como artista árabe, mis postulados son diferentes a los de otros artistas y me parece triste que los comisarios tiendan a ignorar a los artistas como yo. Algunas galerías funcionan como una familia y sólo exponen el trabajo de sus miembros. Yo no tengo cabida, soy un intruso. Siento que hay un bloqueo, no directo, pero sí encubierto, que es difícil romper ".
Doce años después de tomar la decisión de dejar su aldea y abrirse camino en el mundo del arte, Halabi aún no ha asumido totalmente su nueva situación y le asaltan las dudas. "No es fácil vivir del arte. Tengo un trabajo de profesor de arte a media jornada en una escuela Cristiana de Jaffa, pero no es suficiente. Muchas veces tengo que trabajar en reformas de casas e incluso he pensado en dedicarme al arte decorativo. Lo hago bien pero tengo la sensación de que me estoy vendiendo. Así que la duda sobre si realmente hice bien eligiendo el camino del arte no se esfuma. Paso por muchos momentos de crisis ".
Arte y Censura
La fundación bbk promueve la iniciativa 'Arte y Censura' que permite expresarse libremente, en Bilbao, a artistas que padecen la presión política y la censura en sus países de origen. Este programa, que cuenta con la imprescindible colaboración de la Fundación Bilbao Arte, posibilita que las personas invitadas puedan trabajar libremente, durante tres meses, con las infraestructuras, espacios y materiales adecuados, y que sus obras tengan difusión internacional. En 2008 este iniciativa acogió a los artistas congoleños Cheri Cherin y Jean Paul Nsimba Mika.
A portrait of the artist as a kitchen worker
Yalla Bye, The Midrasha Gallery | Tel Aviv, Israel
Achbar Ha’ir Newspaper, 24-31th July, 2008.
By Hemda Rosenbaum
The good-hearted gesture and optimism apparent in Fahed Halabi’s drawings, like their seeming naiveté, recreate the protocol for unequal relations between Arabs and Jews in the country. In the guest book placed at Fahed Halabi’s solo exhibit, “Yalla Bye,” at the Midrasha, friends and acquaintances wrote their impressions of the exhibit. When I visited, I took the book and browsed through it. Some of the messages were in Arabic, a language that I don’t understand. Those who wrote in Hebrew, among them poet Aharon Shabtai, were unanimous in their praise, some of it for Halabi’s lovely solo exhibit: They ranged from “a powerful, direct exhibit” to “brave” and “real.” The superlatives poet and journalist Chicky Arad posted on his blog regarding the exhibit seem to belong to the same genre: “Beyond the political aspect of the exhibit’s contents, what is interesting about it is seeing an artist driven to create when everything is going against it, whose paintings are really a crime that he commits with every brush stroke. It is more interesting than seeing an exhibit by a girl whose rich parents sent her to study at Betzalel or the Midrashsa, who sees herself as an artist…” It is so easy to once again label the Arab with the direct, real and authentic stereotypes – and how ironic, as the exhibit deals with these stereotypes, however indirectly, ironically and not free of pain. This is nothing if not symptomatic of the Tel Aviv audience, satiated of emotions, running to crown an Arab artist, the “Other,” and along the way missing his entire point.
There is no doubt that Halabi is a hit, at least now, in the summer of 2008. One of the paintings featured in the exhibit, a flattering and intentionally naïve portrait of [former Arab parliament member] Azmi Bishara, was featured on the cover of Ma’ayan magazine issued this year (Arad is one of the magazine’s editors). Bishara’s portrait is featured between those of two female Israeli parliament members, Limor Livnat and Tzipi Livni. The colors are alive and flat, and the format is surprisingly large.
Halabi maintained Livnat’s facial features (her single dimple), but gave her authenticity and a deep look that she must certainly wish that she had. He almost turned Livni into a sex kitten in a suit, a beauty whose lips emote a sensual purr. The three paintings are part of a larger series of flattering female Israeli parliament members, flattering almost to the point of addiction. One can recognize in them, alongside naïve and professional painting, including a curvy signature “Arab Work,” flattery and the need we feel to heap gifts on our Arabs, the Israeli Arabs, like knafeh, on the house. “Knafeh” is the name of another painting in the exhibit – a portrait of the artist as a kitchen worker. The painting is realistic, large, and oddly optimistic. It should be viewed in the context of two additional paintings in a similar format: In one an image of a man walking on his hands and in the other a caricature of an Arab in a keffiyah, with his back to us, looking at us over his shoulder, taking off his galabiyeh to expose his backside and penis. So who is the Arab? The restaurant worker out of our sight, an erotic fantasy, or a man whose ethnic identity forces him to juggle opposing, stereotypical identities? At the very least, this threesome is meant to cancel out the direct hypothesis mistakenly attributed to the artist.
Two video projects made by simple means (a style so embraced by the curator, Doron Robina), accentuate the complicated message put forth by Halabi’s work. One was shot by a video camera placed on a shelf in a restaurant where he works. We see Halabi and another cook chatting while working, as Mizrahi versions of Purim songs blare in the background. Halabi asks his Arab friend, who is busy preparing stuffed peppers, why his name is Yehuda. The absolute assembly motif is repeated in the other video project, in which the artist is seen placing phylacteries outside the central bus station in Tel Aviv, instructed by a red-faced Ashkenazi Yeshiva student. In this instance as well, loud music is playing and the south Tel Aviv noise increases the absurdity of the situation.
Ha'aretz Newspaper, 11th July, 2008.
A book of poems by Mahmoud Darwish lies on a table in the living room. Next to it is an ashtray stuffed with cigarette butts. It's evening in Jaffa, and the street is visible through the half-open blinds. Hanging on one wall is a small portrait of Che Guevara. "I admire him," says artist Fahed Halabi, from the Druze village of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights. "He was a revolutionary who fought for the freedom of a nation, an intellectual who paid the highest price for the justice of his cause. I feel a deep connection with him. Even at the age of 37, I am moved by his image - I guess I am still occupied with revolutions."
Many eyes peer from the huge paintings on the walls of Halabi's apartment. The women's veiled faces express a certain bewilderment, tinged with an aspiration for freedom. "I painted them two years ago," Halabi says. "These paintings are part of a series that deal with the sexuality of the Druze woman," he explains, pointing to three paintings of nudes. "Some of the paintings place the women in bluntly pornographic poses, but that is not what interested me," Halabi says, moving to the balcony. "The idea in these paintings was not to be provocative just for the sake of being provocative," he says. "I wanted to talk about something important," he adds after taking a few puffs on his cigarette.
It is important for him that his work be understood. "What interested me was the place of the Druze woman in regard to religion and tradition. In my mind's eye I saw my mother, and the hard life she led. These works are a type of identification with my mother. They are a critique of the religion that discriminated against women like her, that viewed them as women with no identity. The veil is a type of mask; to me it represents a form of distortion of the woman's identity, a cover that hides and obscures the true appearance and becomes a disguise that is fraught with social, normative and class elements. I exposed the women in the way I know; I left the veil but bared the genitals."
Halabi, too, is imprisoned by social and class frameworks. After two years of living in Tel Aviv, he is holding his first solo exhibition. Entitled "Yalla, Bye," the show, which opened last week at Hamidrasha Gallery in Tel Aviv, includes paintings and two video works. "These are works I have done in the past two years, a kind of summing up of my period in Tel Aviv," he says. "Usually I do whole series of works, but this time I will show individual paintings. I would say that their connecting link is the question of where I stand in regard to what is happening around me."
His answers are always gloomy, but accompanied by an almost childlike wink. A black-and-white drawing shows an Arab man exposing his buttocks to the eyes of the beholder. "This is a very stereotypical representation of 'the Arab,'" Halabi notes. "He has a small mustache and is wearing a kaffiyeh. He exposes his bottom either out of despair or rebelliousness. You can understand it in both ways. It is not sophisticated. I don't know exactly why I am in such a hurry to disrobe the objects I paint, but maybe the undressing is meant to radicalize the paradoxes inherent in the story."
Halabi has turned his small balcony into a studio. The floor is covered with thick gray cardboard. A painting is propped next to the window facing the flea market, which is now closed. Tubes of paint are strewn in every corner, brushes thin and thick are jammed into glass jars. It is from here that he embarks on jarring mental journeys between two cultures - the Druze culture from which he comes and the Israeli culture in which he lives. He is immersed in questions of Arab identity within a Jewish-Israeli milieu.
One of the video works in the exhibition shows Halabi putting on tefillin (phylacteries) at a Chabad stand next to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. "I did not intend to be provocative. This is only another case of taking to an extreme the question of how far an Arab living in Tel Aviv can escape and fall into confusion," he explains. "I bring about a change in my religion, which is a very important element in my identity. It is a symbolic act, but one that contains an element of betrayal. I am betraying the place I come from in an attempt to belong to the new place."
The exhibition will include portraits of female Knesset members and ministers such as Dalia Itzik, Ruhama Avraham and Tzipi Livni. "Halabi's works generate an odd political posture," says Doron Rabina, the curator of the exhibition. "They are simultaneously angry and bemused. It is a stance of bitter laughter, of despair that foments creativity. He holds a critical position that seems to wear a face of sycophancy, of ratifying the ruling authorities, a position that begins with kowtowing to the ruler - as expressed in the tradition of portraits of leaders - and ends with irony and mockery. For the female MKs he does a flat portrait, devoid of consciousness, that robs them of all symbolic capital. They are differentiated by hairdo, hair color and makeup, ahead of the worldviews that set them apart - elected representatives with a cosmetics agenda."
That's a bit chauvinistic, isn't it?
"The series is immersed in chauvinism, which complicates the works by introducing erotic desire and fantasizing about powerful women. The works address the libido no less than nationality. We also show a painting of a magazine cover girl whose bikini top is decorated with the Palestinian flag. Fahed, I would say, creates a trilateral rhetoric of nationalism-racism-chauvinism. It is a posture of deliberate vulgarity, which views political reality through the most basic representations: official government photographs, magazine porn, comics. He is articulating a view of a complex reality by means of hollow images, which a priori reject any possibility of complexity. Every potential for political change, every hint of the revolutionary is shown to be empty propaganda."
"For a teacher to be able to teach his pupil properly, he must also learn something from him," adds the well-known artist Yair Garbuz, the director of the School of Art - Hamidrasha and Halabi's supervisor there. "I feel that art expresses humanity, place and time. Fahed taught me a great deal about place. I think that is something Arab artists have. His paintings tell the story of a person. They are distinctive. They are not just anachronistic folklore. I see in his paintings authenticity in the sense of verity. His work combines humor and sadness, a fusion I find moving. That is why even people who do not understand contemporary art will enjoy his exhibition: his work communicates with people."
Halabi was born into a farming family, which earned its living in traditional agriculture, such as sheep breeding and small cherry and apple groves. Amid the hardships of daily life his father also wrote books on religion. "Dad had beautiful handwriting and he made part of his living from writing and illustrating religious texts. That was his winter work," Halabi relates with fond longing. "I remember him sitting in his room and copying for hours on end. I loved to watch him work and see the decorative elements, the way he bound the books. I think it was from him that I acquired technique and artistic sensitivity."
The artistic impulse accompanied him throughout his childhood, though it was not until the age of 25 that he decided to study art. "I lived with an inner conflict for years," he says. "I wanted to study art, but because I had no support for this at home I kept putting it off. In the end, I couldn't bear it any longer and decided to go ahead even without my parents' support. That was an exceptional decision. My parents wanted me to work, no matter where, in any profession, and then marry and have children. That is the whole track they envisaged for me - that is life, from their point of view. That is a primitive approach, and it took a great deal of courage and energy to oppose them. I did not want that limited life. They were dead set against the idea of my studying. I remember my father asking me, 'What's the point of learning how to scribble?'"
Nevertheless, Halabi enrolled in Tel Hai Academic College in Upper Galilee. "I told myself that I would give this story a year's trial, and that year turned out to be three years. I was swept up in a tremendous experience. It wasn't just that I learned the language of art at Tel Hai - the main thing that happened to me there was that I was exposed to the world. It was leaving my village, the transition from the little world to the big world. That was a very meaningful step in my life."
His graduation exhibition at the college was his first breakthrough. Halabi showed a series of realistic paintings from the life of his village and was awarded first place in the exhibition. "I wanted to talk about the social psychology in the village," he says. "I chose scenes from my personal and collective life. It was something different in the landscape of the students' works. Today, though, looking back, I am somewhat critical of those works. I think I painted unsophisticated narrative situations. It might be a landscape with a farmer who seems to be suffering from his work. It was an unsophisticated depiction of life, a type of documentary painting. It was not until later that I started to look at painting as a medium for self-expression, through which I talk about what I think."
At the conclusion of his studies, he returned to Majdal Shams. He and a friend established an art center to provide enrichment groups in painting, sculpture, theater and music for the village children. "It was the first time there had been cultural activity on that scale in the village," he says. "There was nothing like it before. Even though we had no financial support from anyone, we kept the groups going for three years. It was a riveting experience, but in the end, I felt stuck. I felt I had exhausted myself. I did very little painting in the village, nothing meaningful, and I wanted to go on."
In 2003 he enrolled at the Midrasha art school in Kfar Sava. "Again I discovered a new world, one that was more complicated," he relates. "In the first exhibition at the Midrasha I understood immediately that I was no longer the star of Tel Hai, that there were a lot of talented people around me. I soon got some cold, harsh criticism, and I kept a low profile and got down to work. Art became more substantive, the themes grew sharper and also more and more defiant."
In a trap
The further he got from home, the more political his work became. The experience of growing up under Israeli military rule left scars that continue to reopen. "The political statement in my work comes from my life," he says, lighting up another cigarette. He blows out the smoke in the form of a taut arrow, which quickly dissipates. "The place I grew up in continues to haunt me. I am not one of those Druze who was brainwashed and became more Zionist than the Zionists. The situation of the Druze on the Golan Heights, those who have been under occupation since 1967, is very different from the Druze who were occupied in 1948. The 1948 Druze are different from me, even though our roots are almost identical and we draw on the same culture. But being under Israeli occupation for 40 years has an impact. I live only an hour north of them, but for me the occupation started in 1967, not 1948. That is a tremendous difference, which leaves us worlds apart."
There is also an ethnic difference. The Druze of Israel, he says, are Palestinian Arabs, "but their past has been forgotten: the sophisticated Israeli policy shifted them. Israeli rule reclassified their identity and made them more Druze than Arab. 'Druze' became a nationality in Israel, which is wrong. What the ruling authorities dictated to those people was to internalize the fact - and declare it in every nook and cranny - that they are first of all Druze."
"I am first of all an Arab. After that, a Syrian who has been under occupation since 1967. People here forget, but my village was under martial law until 1981. I was in a situation in which the military governor was omnipotent, a place where there was no judicial system or regional council. We had neither Israeli nor Syrian ID cards. It was a no-man's land."
A place hostile to Israel?
"Absolutely. I came from a place that is hostile to Israel and to the occupation. There used to be 135 Druze villages on the Golan Heights - 150,000 people who moved to Syria. We live that lacuna. The only thing left of everything that existed there is ruins, and four villages. After the 1967 war there were 15,000 Druze left on the Golan Heights, who did not want to be Israelis. That was forced on us. I remember, for example, a six-month siege of our village because the people refused to accept Israeli citizenship. Every day there were clashes with soldiers. There were riots in the village. I remember the soldiers entering our house, standing there with the ID cards and my mother throwing on the floor the forms she was given to fill out. Finally, the confrontation ended in a compromise: we took the Israeli ID cards, but under 'place of birth,' our cards say Golan Heights, not Israel."
Were you raised in the Syrian culture?
"There was an atmosphere that felt Syrian at home. So I feel that inwardly I am cut off. I was never in Syria. I define myself as Syrian, but I don't know what that means, because, you know, I am not like a Syrian from Damascus who is continuing a thousand-year culture. I live in a trap, living an Israeli life but carrying a culture from which I am cut off. I am dangling in mid-air: I do not want to blend in and integrate, but I cannot communicate with my cultural background, either.
"The move to Tel Aviv only aggravated the difficulty. I came to Tel Aviv in order to paint; I gave up my continuity, family, friends, a family of my own. The continuity of an artist who comes to Tel Aviv from a northern kibbutz is not snapped cruelly the way mine was. I was uprooted and came to a different world. And I remain a stranger in the new world."
Moments of crisis
All the answers Halabi comes up with amid the complexity of his situation reflect his anomalous position. He feels that viewers of his works find it culturally difficult to digest them. "In recent years some galleries have refused altogether to accept works in which there are images that evoke Arabs," Halabi says. "The feeling is that people do not want to talk about the conflict, about politics. As though what they want is to curl up in some quiet, comfortable, pretty bubble. Curators are fed up with Palestinians, with the [separation] fence, with the intifada. I think Israeli art is increasingly focused on the aesthetic. The galleries nod to the rich, the bankers, and look for pretty art that the buyers can hang at home."
Artists and gallery owners also have to make a living, don't they?
"It is clear to me that running a gallery is a business, and obviously they have to think about selling artwork, but I think it has all become cruder. The galleries prefer to show decorative objects. For example, there was a Tel Aviv gallery that showed paintings of flowers in all kinds of versions. That's very nice, and I like it, but pretty is not enough. A month ago, Minshar le'omanut [Minshar for Art, a school for art in Tel Aviv] had an exhibition about Hebron. I was there. People were scornful. The political has become ridiculous. It is sad that people are disdainful of such a harsh situation. What I find ridiculous is that curators don't want to show things that bug the public; that people are tired of the suppression and the suffering. That doesn't have anything to do with art, really: it is ridiculous on a human level."
Do you feel that you are disdained because you are an Arab artist?
"I was not accepted to the 'Fresh Paint' art fair held in Tel Aviv a few months ago. On the one hand I can understand that, because maybe I wasn't suitable, but what burns me up is that I know that some artists were accepted without going through the procedure, just with a phone call. Maybe it's not because I am an Arab, but it's clear to me that Israeli art, which is considered open and liberal, does not truly allow Arab artists to enter. As an Arab artist, I make a statement that does not exist in the work of other artists, and I find it sad that there is a tendency by curators to ignore artists like me. There are galleries that are run like a family: they show the work of members. I have no place there, I am an outsider. My feeling is that there is a block - not a direct one, but hidden. It is hard to penetrate."
Despite the success of achieving a solo exhibition, he feels lonely. His family does not intend to come to the exhibition. "I experience my successes alone," he says with a shy smile. "I would very much like, for example, to see my mother take part in my happy event, but for her it is not a truly happy occasion. A truly happy event will be when I return to the village and get married."
Twelve years on, Halabi has still not fully come to terms with his decision to leave the village at the age of 25 and make his way in the world of art. The doubts continue to gnaw at him. "It is not easy to make a living from art," he says. "I have a partial salary from teaching art at a Christian school in Jaffa, but it is not enough. I often find myself working as a home renovator. To make ends meet I even thought of doing decorative art. I tried, and I am good at it, but it is hard for me psychologically - I feel as though I am selling myself out. So the question of whether I made the right decision in choosing art doesn't go away. I go through many moments of crisis. I get up in the morning in my apartment and ask myself what the hell I am doing here."
Fahed Halabi's video installation - the first that deals with the "kitchen staff" - succeeds in confusing the concepts of name, identity, impersonating and ideology in a fascinating way and reflects something new about being an Arab artist.
Within the framework of his first solo exhibit, which includes drawings, paintings and two video installations, the video project entitled "Yudah" stands out. It's a seemingly simple project, of an inconsequential recorded scene, full of charm - a documentation of the almost archaic type. An video camera records a minor situation - the kitchen staff in some restaurant, preparing food. The camera is on a refrigerator or cabinet, up above, creating the image of a security camera. Plastic boxes are taken out of the refrigerator, onions are chopped, a pot is set and peppers are stuffed. Halabi himself moves forward and backwards in the narrow area between where they are preparing the food and the stove, bandages his lightly wounded fingers and annoys Yudah with innocent questions. Why is he called Yudah. Is that his name on his identification card as well? Yudah answers that this is the name his father gave him, but evades answering about the identification card, staying silent. And then the radio plays Oriental dance-style Purim songs - "Let's Make Noise" and "My Little Clown." Halabi sings along with the radio. That's about it.
One of the most moving things about the project is that it has no precedent, in the sense that an Arab artist has never created a work of art dealing with his Arab identity from the perspective of his place in his socio- economic hierarchy in the political field. There are definitely works of art against the occupation. There are projects that deal with searching and consolidating identity. There are projects that incorporate Islamic motifs, interweaving East and West. There are those that use intensified metaphors and protest symbolism. There are also general works of defiance on the "Arab situation" or on "Being an Arab in a Jewish Society." And obviously there are projects that don't deal with these issues, but try to align with some sort of imagined universal quality. It is interesting to consider why prominent Arab artists don't deal with, what Althusser coined, their own depressing-exploitative conditions for creativity. Ideology is imagined, a "pure dream, empty and vain, constituted by the ‘day’s residues’ from the only full and positive reality, that of the concrete history of concrete material individuals materially producing their existence,” Althusser writes. Maybe the Arab artists (and I'm thinking about Abu Shakra, Nubani, Azi, Boya and mabe even Sharif Waked) tend to repress how hard it is to be an Arab artist not in the metaphysical sense of the term, but rather in terms of communicating from far away about passing, as an imagined relation regarding the power of production. Maybe that is why the critical among them talk about the "Arab image" and not about themselves. Their work is easily sorted as "progressive" from the realm of Arabness towards the art realm. Therefore they confirm that the realms are different and ratify the objects of discussion as different from one another.
Halabi's work demonstrates a concrete narrative about his shift work in kitchens, one of the last sectors not yet completely overtaken from Arabs by foreign workers. The main precedent that comes to mind is that Halabi doesn't transgress for a moment from the labeling of "being an Arab" through a specific, joint nature, an imminent or mythical characteristic, not even through a unifying ideology. The Arabness is characterized, separated and defined not through a shared worldview, language, habits and beliefs, but through the joint history of being sentenced to work in kitchens. In this way he presents a political model that disallows interpretation in terms of nation, race, religion or ethnicity alone, without linking them to considering economic majority-minority relations or a nation of masters and their apartheid counterparts. Halabi creates a new theoretical object - the Tel Aviv Arab. Hebrew poetry is familiar with him, as is the theater, and even the television has held him closely recently. In art, though, it seems that since Reuven Rubin and Nachum Guttman, he's been somewhat forgotten.
Precisely because the video displays the internal heterogeneity of the term "Arab," it succeeds in creating the presence of injustice, even in a manner filled with faint, Jewish, black humor. Before our very eyes, Yudah, who acts Jewish, becomes Yudah, who passes, who collaborates. Halabi, pampering himself with the bandaids, is construed not only as the one at the height of learning to be an "Arab kitchen worker" who can't do Arab work properly, but as a type of Class B Jesus, whose injuries are minor, and dealing with them is more cosmetic than medical or hysterical, as someone impersonating a kitchen worker for modern art, as someone who enjoys the hidden authorization (and gleefully hums "noise noise noise" after the line "let's make some noise"). The seemingly simple conversation, about the name and the simple response, seemingly about the father, creates in me, in a surprisingly absurd way, a debate on the name of the father, on the gap between the name and identity, on ideology that doesn't miss its target and on these imagined relations.
In addition, the pepper filling with rice can't erase the wet eroticism of the action, from the comparison between the metaphorical fuck and the various cooking shows prevalent here, which have castrated any erotic sense from food and its preparation in favor of the eroticism of competition (between chefs, between the number of calories in each dish, etc.). In this respect, we are destined to look with a colonialist view at kitchen work, as lords peering at the amazing ability of the slave to take bread from the earth, free of magic and speed, the lazy ability like the Levant itself, taking its time, like foreplay. The rubber gloves on Yudah's hands turn the act into a form of safe sex, in a sense that they make him look like an impressionist girl covered in gloves, a sort of Queen Esther.
I am political sex
The Midrasha Gallery | Dizengoff 34, Tel Aviv, Israel
Appeared in Time Out Tel Aviv July 7-10, 2008.
By Doron Rabina
In a reality in which political change seems at least as far away as Mars, Knesset members are like a certain type of model. If they can’t change anything, the most important thing is their new haircut, if their make-up is effective and if their new suit fits.
Fahed Halabi’s portraits of female members of Knesset hit much deeper than on first glance. Frozen in a ridiculous moment, their expressions are the only things ingrained in our memory, mainly because the words they say don’t actually matter.
Fahed Halabi presents portraits of female Knesset members (Ruchama Avraham, Dalia Itzik, Tzipi Livni and others), vulgar caricatures of a mustachioed Arab exposing his buttocks, a magazine pinup wearing a bikini with the colors of the Palestinian flag and video projects on Arab identity. According to curator Doron Rubina, the works of art express rage and hilarity, bitter laughter and “despair that generates creativity.” “For the Knesset members he creates flat portraits, free of consciousness, that empty them of any symbolic capital. They are differentiated from each other by their haircut, hair color and make up, before their worldviews distinguish between them – public servants with a cosmetic agenda,” Rubina says. This is a series seeped in chauvinism that complicates the paintings with issues of erotic desire, fantasies on authority, a series conscripted to the libido no less than to questions of nationality. It is a position of deliberate rudeness that examines the political reality through the most basic representations: official government photographs, pornographic magazines and caricature books.
Halabi formulates a look at a complicated reality by using hollow images that reject out of hand any possibilities for complexity. Any chance for political change, any hint of revolutionism, is exposed through the painting as empty propaganda, as a visual slogan.
Carefully and ironically: A look at Fahed Halabi's artwork
Ma’arav, 7th November, 2008
By Mati Shmuelof
In his drawings, impressions and video projects, Fahed Halabi challenges the artistic, Jewish, gender and Ashkenazi hegemony in Israel.
Fahed Halabi’s exhibit, which was featured last summer at the Midrasha Gallery in Tel Aviv, opened with a video project that shows him placing phylacteries on the street, depicting the act as an attempt to create the universality of Judiasm in a manner that will allow the artist to enter its gates. It is a quasi-attempt to integrate a broad Diaspora view into Judaism and combine it with a universal wandering identity that will replace the conventional identity, which adopted territory as totem and taboo. The question of Jewish-Diaspora and universal identity has been expressed in many ways. Suddenly it is no longer one shade, surface, elitist and nationalist. Suddenly Halabi can be received as any “Jew” from the “street,” who walks alongside ecstatic Chassidic Breslevs who believe in the power of the ritual of placing phylacteries on someone and bringing the believer into a direct relationship with the Lord. Halabi also addresses weak sectors and skin color (in the video project he could be construed as a dark-skinned Russian, a dark Mizrahi or a dark Ashkenazi), and the ability to be accepted into “Judaism,” which was appropriated by nationalism, becoming exclusionary and exclusive. In addition to the video, Halabi creates impressions and drawings in which the imaginary and real stereotype of the “Arab cook” appears, which is linked to national power, positive Palestinian position and possibly a hint at a look at Islam (through the green color in the background). Like the black cat in Farid Abu Shakra’s painting and like Emile Habibi’s optimist, Halabi moves carefully and gently. He laughs and cries in his meeting with Ashkenazi-Zionism, on the blue and white background that surrounds the portrait of Minister Tzipi Livni and former education minister Limor Livnat (the root letters of her last name are lammed, bet and nun [which spells white], and it is interesting that Halabi is reminiscent of the root chet, lamed and bet [which spells milk]). Between the two, Halabi places the portrait of former Knesset member Azmi Bishari, a Santa Claus smile on his face, with a green Arab and Islamic background. The power of the picture stems from the fact that Bishara was the one who was “expelled” from Jewish politics (on the false claims of spying, and through means of persecution that were practiced in the nineteenth century against Jews in Europe). It is interesting to note that the portrait of Bishara also appeared on the cover of the Maayan magazine, garnering quite a bit of exposure. One could say that Halabi is reversing the social, political and aesthetic image of the public dialogue by changing the outer-artistic categories. Thus the category of the Arab male (Bishara) stands in the center, in contrast to the category of Ashkenazi women (Livni and Livnat).
There is a complex connection between the ironic illustrations - linked to the junction between sexuality and the binational situation - and the colorful drawings. In the illustrations, Halabi’s soul can be felt, alongside the tension between humor and pain that characterizes his work, and in the paintings he places a mask that distances him from the objects. In one illustration, a man stands on his head in a type of Middle Eastern breakdance as a “minority,” with the street and cold concrete in the background. The dancer is in an impossible position, as his head, not coincidentally, is not in the picture. This illustration could be created any place in which a racialized, marked group is required to “dance” in order to satisfy the wishes of the local colonialist. The drawing of the “Arab” (marked by a keffiyeh), which shows us his back, as well as the illustration of the woman wearing a bathing suit with the colors of the Palestinian flag, continue to create the defiance of the body and sexuality in the face of the observer, the composition, art in Israel and the non-exhibit context.
The exhibit concludes with a video project that takes place in a kitchen, as the “Middle Eastern Basin” radio
station is heard. While Ofer Levy’s Purim song plays, Fahed and another individual who goes by the name “Yehuda” prepare stuffed vegetables. Again we are witness to the demand to create a joint Jewish-Hebrew
and Arab culture, which comprises the Arab expanse as a launching point between the eastern and Middle Eastern that characterize it.
Time Out Tel Aviv Newspaper, 25th December, 2008.
By Galia Yahav
The most political, sexy solo exhibit (and simply the best exhibit of the year): Fahed Halabi’s “Yallah Bye”. Aside from the Technicolor portraits of female Knesset members as erotic icons, a Muslim’s ass and a Palestinian bikini babe, Halabi also presented a video entitled “Yuda,” from a charming documentary scene featuring two members of a kitchen staff during the Purim holiday, which includes naïve questions regarding the Arab whose name is Judah, while humming the Purim songs “My Little Clown” and “Let’s Make Noise.” Respect. The list of events, even if controversial, that stood out this year. Best exhibits.