Leila Khaled in Lipstick: Palestinian Women Out of Frame

Images of Khaled and other icons of the seventies are reproduced at Framed-Unramed, an exhibition at the Ethnographic and Art Museum, in partnership with the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University.

Rasha Hilwi | Al Akhbar English | September 29, 2011

Birzeit University is hosting a unique exhibition of works by Palestinian artists dating from the 1970s through to the present. Framed-Unframed is a critical exploration of visual artists’ changing representations of Palestinian women.

Acre – Leila Khaled hijacked an American airplane on 29 August 1969. After the operation, the photograph of the famous revolutionary taken by Eddie Adams turned Khaled into an icon. Khaled, a young brunette carrying a Kalashnikov with a kuffiyeh around her neck, became a symbol of an era. Images of Khaled and other icons of the seventies are reproduced at Framed-Unramed, an exhibition at the Ethnographic and Art Museum, in partnership with the Institute of Women’s Studies at Birzeit University.

The exhibition portrays various representations of women in Palestinian art through the work of Palestinian artists from different schools and generations whose art spans from the 1970s to the present day. The artists include: Suleiman Mansour, Mona Hatoum, Nabil Anani, Kamel al-Moghanni, Burhan Karkutli, Naji al-Ali, Ahlam Shibli, Mary Tuma, Amer Shomali, Raeda Saadeh, Laila Shawa, Samira Badran, Layan Shawabka, Vera Tamari, Rula Halawani, Inass Yassine, Ayman Issa and Hani Zurob.

Yassine, co-director of the exhibition (along with Vera Tamari), told al-Akhbar that they chose not to select artworks directly addressing feminist issues. “The focus was on the various forms of representation of women in the past thirty years,” she explained.

The exhibition is divided into four sections. The first section, “In the Frame of Heroism”, includes artwork from the seventies. This period set the stage for representations of Palestinian women as icons of struggle and revolution. Palestinian women were portrayed as symbols of land, devotion, and the nation. This is displayed in Suleiman Mansour’s artworks Palestine and The Awakening of the Village (1978), Naji al-Ali’s portrait Fatima (1970), in addition to untitled pieces by Burhan Karkutli and Kamel al-Moghanni from the mid-1970s. It also includes Two Girls from Bethlehem (2011), a modern artwork by Nabil Anani, which preserves some of the symbolism of the seventies.

The second section titled “Political Representation” includes Mona Hatoum’s The Table of Negotiations (1983). The artist takes a political and moral stand by sarcastically presenting her body in the artwork, perhaps referencing political negotiations involving the Lebanese war. Another famous work by Hatoum, Over My Dead Body (2005), is also on display. In this piece, Hatoum creates a line of confrontation and challenge using the image of her face. She plays with the size of the image as a reference to power relations when confronting an Israeli soldier.

In the same section, Mary Tuma’s Homes for the Bodiless (2000) displays large black dresses that hang from the ceiling. Here, Tuma addresses the homeland, the diaspora, and the tragedy of displacement. Ahlam Shibli has two photographs in the exhibit: Fattouma and Dream (2000), which represent Bedouin women, whose existence, along with their tribes, is denied by the Israeli occupation.

Icon (2011) is a complex piece by Amer Shomali produced especially for the Framed-Unframed exhibition. The installation piece, which is composed of 3,500 lipstick tubes, has attracted particular attention from visitors. Shomali worked on Eddie Adams’s famous photo of Leila Khaled’s. He reproduces the image exactly – with Kalashnikov and kuffiyeh – using lipstick tubes. Shomali plays with the concept of confining the image of women to consumption. He replaces images of saleswomen and receptionists with women who actively struggle.

The third section, “Loss and Hope”, displays artwork that portrays the image of women during the second intifada and the Israeli re-occupation of West Bank cities after 2000. Such artwork addresses destruction, death, and Palestinian women’s determination to persevere and resist. Laila Shawa’s Scream (2011) is a repetitive print of a woman screaming. Does the woman scream in the face of occupation or an authoritarian society, or both? Vera Tamari’s Silent Grief (2002) portrays women sobbing due to intense loss.

The fourth section, “Where is the Body,” is dedicated to productions from the nineties. These pieces boldly address the relationship between politics and social heritage on the one hand, and the female body, on the other. Rula Halawani’s No title (2004) portrays the familiar sight of a bride and groom at their wedding, with two old ladies dancing in Palestinian traditional gowns.

Framed-Unframed opened with a performance by Raeda Saadeh titled Wish Tree (2011). Saadeh dressed in a white dress several meters wide. The audience wrote their wishes on a piece of colored paper and threw them at the dress. Saadeh’s photographic artwork Penelope (2011) is also displayed in this section. Penelope celebrates the ability of Palestinian women to persevere despite ongoing catastrophes.

Framed-Unframed: Open through September 29, Birzeit University, Ramallah. www.birzeit.edu

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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