The right to history, to individual and collective memories of the past, and to a self-determined perspective on the future were at the core of the Nakba commemorations across the world on 15th May. The Subjective Atlas of Palestine, edited by Annelys de Vet and published by 010 Publishers, seems to offer an embodiment of these themes in visual and print form. Asserting the ‘right to narrate’ as termed by the late Edward Said.
Edited by Annelys de Vet. Contributors including Hassan Khader, Hosni Radwan, Senan Abdelqader, Inas Moussa, Yazan Khalili, Majdi Hadid (each featured on this page) and many others.
The Atlas is the outcome of a week-long workshop held in April 2007, attended by over 20 Palestinian designers, artists, photographers, architects and students at the International Academy of Art in Ramallah. The intention was to produce an atlas that was much more than a set of maps, but rather a collection of visual and textual ‘mappings’ of the lived reality of Palestine – social, cultural, geographical and political. The subject matter of the Atlas reflects this eclectic and precarious lived reality, covering topics as apparently incongruous as traditional embroidery, chickpeas, print media, road signs, natural landscapes, currency and national flags.
Yet, taken in its entirety, the Atlas offers a remarkable and at times profound collection of vignettes of life in Palestine. More than romanticizing Palestinian culture, it confronts the daily realities of occupation, with astuteness, creativity and humour.
In the first contribution, “A Quest for Normalcy”, Hassan Khader explains:
For a Palestinian, Palestine is a profession, a metaphor, and a reality defying categorization. Looking from outside, the checkpoints, the wall, the Orwellian regime of mobility restrictions and the uncertainty of locating Palestine in a non contested map, seem like a nightmare. From inside, the nightmare isn’t less obvious. It’s there in all possible details. However, among usually recognized manifestations, it has a comic aspect which can’t be seen from a distance; like a surrealist dream come true, where things are not exactly what they seem and negotiating one’s identity and place is an endless effort of normalization. Looking from inside, the nightmare is like a disease with which one can live, not only as a fait accompli but as a tactic of survival. Tactics of survival bring out the best as well as the worst of human behaviour.
Arguably, the Atlas also offers a significant contribution towards narratives of the future. Although predominantly limited to the West Bank in its geographic remit, its contents not only challenge the ingrained mainstream perspectives on Palestine held by those looking in from outside, but they also offer a reflection on the spaces of possibility that exist within its confines.
Since its initial publication in 2007, the Atlas has been released in a bilingual Arabic-English edition by the International Academy of Art, expanding its audience within Palestine and the Arab world beyond. In fact it even has the dubitable honour of having gained the attention PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has shared the publication in relational gifts.
The Subjective Atlas of Palestine is featured and hosted on arenaofspeculation.org with kind permission from the editor. We invite you to take a look through its pages and, on the day when the gates of Rafah were finally re-opened to the world, to begin to engage with and expand upon the small spaces of possibility where ‘Free Palestine’ is already a lived reality.