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ANADIEL’s story

…communicable but was immense, complex and often divisive. However, the intifada ultimately led to political contact between Israel and the Palestinians and from the Madrid Peace conference in 1991 emerged the directly negotiated Oslo Peace Accords in 1993.

This sequence of events was intrinsic to the establishment of Anadiel. Jack Persekian and Issa Kassissieh were both concerned and frustrated with how Palestinians were perceived in the international media.

…  always felt that the East side – our future capital – had a good commercial street and had some great characteristics but something was missing[1].

The optimism generated by The Madrid Conference motivated Jack and Issa to make the gallery a reality and they decided to set up as a commercial partnership. The hope was that the gallery would function as business selling art to visitors and Diaspora Palestinians who were beginning to return.  The next step was to find premises.

Jack and Issa wanted the gallery to be a very contemporary space. They wanted it to signal a break from the past and that made design very important. At this point artist and architect Khalil Rabah enters the story.

I had been studying art and architecture in the US and I came back to Palestine in 1991. I didn’t know Jack then but we had common friend who put us in touch. We all wanted to create a distinct identity for the gallery and to create a place that said something new about Salahuddin Street. Jack and Issa wanted to have a metal canopy at the front of Anadiel. I was really not sure about a metal canopy for an art gallery but in the end it became much more than a sign. It was an intervention in space before this term had became a common artistic reference. I don’t think any of us really knew what we doing but as well as the canopy we decided to put metal on the inside of the gallery and then to pour in raw concrete for the walls.  What we ended up with was an ultra modern space with industrial sensibilities that would probably have made an impact in New York or London at that time, so for Salahuddin Street it was really quite shocking.  It was a huge signal of change[2].

So with a lot of commitment and some architectural gymnastics the first ever contemporary Palestinian art space had begun.

Anadiel launched on the 20th January 1992 with an inaugural show of Palestinian artists including Khalil Rabah, Sliman Mansour, Tayseer Barakat, Nabil Anani and Vera Tamari, among others. Several solo shows followed for local artists as well as a couple of French artists in partnership with the next door French Cultural Center, which became a very important partner.

The following year there were another six exhibitions at Anadiel including a major group show of Palestinian women artists as well as several solo shows. As each exhibition attracted more attention, what began as the first and only independent gallery in Palestine quickly took on an important life of its own. Aside from being an exhibition space for local artists it quickly became a gathering place, not only for artists but for an emerging cultural network.

This direct engagement of international artists with the situation in Palestine was to become one of the founding principles of Al-Ma’mal. Visiting artists were able to experience the real situation on the ground and convey their understanding of it to the outside. This was a perfect complement to Anadiel’s programme of offering a different view of Palestine through its own artists. Furthermore, this kind of engagement brought very contemporary international concepts and practices into the heart of Jerusalem’s emerging art scene.

1996

RELOCATION

In late 1995 the lease on the premises in Salahedin Street expired and a decision had to be made about whether or not to continue with the gallery. Given the function that the space had started to serve, losing it would have been quite a blow to the emerging network. Persekian made a decision to relocate the gallery to the Old City where he had a space that used to be the workshop of his father’s bookbinding business.

There were concerns with having the Old City as a location. Unlike Salaheddin, it was not on a main street and was only accessible by foot so it was possible that fewer visitors would come. However, these premises meant that the gallery could continue without the constant need for huge amounts of rent money. So after giving the workshop a good clean, the new Anadiel was established in January 1996. Once again unanticipated things started to happen:

It became the most amazing thing being inside the old city. To work and to have artists visit here and to be part of that history and that environment. It meant that when the decision came to found Al-Ma’mal there was no question about where it would be – inside the Old City[3].

MONA HATOUM

From the early days, Anadiel exhibited Palestinian Diaspora artists, some of whom had never been to Palestine. Having foreign nationalities and passports, these artists were able to visit as tourists and many projects were made financially possible by the artists’ respective governments. As a result of such encounters between visiting and local artists a brand new discourse began to emerge. This explored questions of identity and modernity, the relationship to the land, popular imagery and national iconography. More tangible concerns also emerged about articulation and representation.

In April 1996 the new premises of Anadiel hosted a solo show by Mona Hatoum. For Khalil Rabah this show was particularly memorable:

When we began to look towards Diaspora artists, Mona Hatoum was just starting to make a name for herself internationally and her solo exhibition at Anadiel in 1996 was an important moment for me. I felt that we really had brought contemporary art to Jerusalem[4].

SOMETHING IS MISSING

By 1997, Anadiel Gallery had become the only Palestinian venue that exhibited and hosted artist projects and residencies, and promoted international exchanges. Throughout 1997 it held many groundbreaking shows including ‘Something is Missing’ by French artist Jean-Marc Bustamante. The installation was composed of five locally made metal sculptures of various heights that functioned as birdcages, each containing a live bird. Bustamante’s objective was to mark out a territory, which was at once a prison and a vital space in which movement was constrained but not entirely forbidden.

Because Anadiel was a private initiative it did not qualify for funding from international organizations. Yet it was already serving a crucial function and an expansion of its capabilities and resources was imperative on several different levels. First it was becoming increasingly urgent to open up to artists from all over the world, provide them with the means and resources to visit Jerusalem and produce works that were in dialogue with the place and time.

Secondly, experiences with all the artists and the work they produced, clearly showed the benefits of a creative approach, especially in terms of assessing and expressing the self in relation to the wider dysfunctional environment. These observations underlined the need for Anadiel to develop some kind of educational capacity whereby artists could interact directly with the local community and provide creative skills, especially to young and underprivileged communities. However, Anadiel had access to neither the physical resources nor the funds for this kind of a programme.
Realising that change was vital in order to move forward, the decision to establish the Al Ma’mal Foundation was made. Its main aim was to instigate, disseminate and make art in Palestine. They envisioned Al Ma’mal as a catalyst for the realization of art projects with local and visiting artists and believed that their knowledge and skills could be extended further into the community. At the same time there needed to be a mechanism for consolidating the network that had grown from Anadiel and using it to both organise, and provide information about cultural activities in Palestine.

Art is a significant and essential component of both collective and individual identity. We thus believe that a healthy productive society must nurture the creative forces within it and provide its members with opportunities to participate in art and cultural events. Although the creation of an indigenous culture is of vast importance, isolationism and parochialism must be avoided. Hence, in addition to the promulgation of proponents of the local culture we place great emphasis on exposure to international artistic trends. [5]

[1] Issa Kassisieh, Interview, Jerusalem, April 2010

[2] Khalil Rabah, Op Cit.

[3] Jack Persekian, Interview, Jerusalem, 2010

[4] Ibid.

[5] From Al- Ma’mal Statement, 1997.