Last night I came across this poster at the eminently busy season opening at Al Serkal Avenue. It caught my eye because I have the original, bearing the words "Visit Palestine" and the silhouette of the Dome of the Rock, hanging in my front room.
Here it is:
With that random connection to my humble dwelling, I was captivated and, undoubtedly, so will be multitudes of others. Such is the power of pop culture references, which come in many shapes, most of them addictive.
When I got home I duly embarked on a brief dig-around on Google, which revealed further personal parallels: the poster's originator, Franz Kraus, was not just from the same country as I (Austria), he also grew up in the same city (Graz). He later moved to Berlin and in 1934, when Nazi aggression against Jews began its grim ascent, he emigrated to Palestine (via Barcelona, a city where I also briefly lived). Kraus created numerous posters, you can check them out here, but this is the one he is famous for.
The complex politics and history behind the original poster (read about them here and here), are echoed by its new incarnation as a controversial piece of contemporary art: the remixed version forms part of a bigger project by Jerusalem native Larissa Sansour, which was removed from the shortlist of the Lacoste Elysee Prize for being too pro-Palestinian in 2011. Nonetheless, Sansour was able to complete the project last year and it will be on show at Lawrie Shabibi, under the title Science Faction, until November 12, 2013.
The Nation Estate series is an at times hilarious, at other times unnerving pastiche of advertising aesthetics and dystopian science fiction films. It includes a hyper-sleek short film suggesting a 'vertical solution' to Palestinian statehood in the form of a high-tech, high-rise building in which every city - Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza - would occupy a separate floor. In Sansour's version of the Visit Palestine poster, the text reads "Nation Estate - Living the High Life" and a skyscraper has replaced the Dome of the Rock.
It's all very tongue-in-cheek, as was much of the art on display last night. Humour, it seems, is not just the safety vent of political and social subversion; it is also a sharp hook for the slippery attention span of the viewer. Light-hearted, even surreal takes on serious issues were also exhibited elsewhere: until November 10 Carbon 12 presents Family Tree by Ghazel, while Rawiyah - She Who Tells a Story is on at Gulf Photo Plus until October 16 and features Tanja Habjouqa's Occupied Pleasures series - my personal favourite.
Conveniently, all three shows are within walking distance within the cluster of warehouses that make up Al Serkal Avenue in Al Quoz. I highly recommend making a day of it and taking in all three. If you do, let me know what you thought.
Some eye candy for right now: a collection of vintage travel posters. I doubt many of them will ever receive the kind of a critical science-fiction makeover Larissa Sansour has given Franz Kraus' iconic Visit Palestine poster.