Works by John Halaka
February 9 – March 6, 2015
“For a little over three decades, meditations on the phenomena of instability, resilience and resistance have informed my artwork. Two of the greatest sources of instability for an individual as well as society are the experiences of forced displacement and exile. Refugees, especially those who were pushed out of their ancestral lands by colonial invasions and ethnic cleansing, are the forgotten survivors of the world. They exist, unseen and unheard, in the margins of the marginalized, while their experiences in exile continue to be deliberately ignores and their voices are repeatedly silenced. Stripped of their identity and driven from their land, refugees are treated as disposable people. If they survive at all, they remain as ghosts on the thresholds of our consciousness, simultaneously visible and invisible, static yet restless. Appearing and disappearing before our eyes, they carry nothing but memories and desires and roam like corpses that refuse to die.
The exhibition brings together a selection of works from older as well as recent projects that explore the experiences of displacement and exile from global as well as personal perspectives. In the large drawing selected from the series, “Forgotten Survivors,” the refugees are presented as an anonymous mass of people that have been stripped of their identity and driven from their land. They drift toward the viewer on a river of displaced humanity. Although drawings from that series do not directly or literally refer to the Palestinians, the condition of that particular group was of primary concern in my research. By avoiding images that are culturally specific, I intended to underscore the parallel tragedies of displacement between the Palestinians and other persecuted people. Whether it is indigenous people of the Americas, Africa, Australia, the Tibetans, the Jews, the Palestinians, the Kurds or another group, the composition allows each viewer to project his/her cultural experiences and political concerns on my image. The composition also positions viewers to stand as witnesses to exile and challenges them to metaphorically walk with the refugees on their “Trail of Tears.”
By contrast to the anonymity of the displaced masses in the large drawing, the photographs and video interviews included in this exhibition are parts of an ongoing multi-disciplinary project that preserves and presents the personal stories of specific individuals, selected from three generations of Palestinian refugees. The project is titled “Portraits of Denial and Desire” and includes an oral history video archive, documentary films, drawings, photographs and a book. Preserving the stories of indigenous Palestinians puts a human face, a living name and unique sets of experiences on their ongoing refugee crisis. It humanizes and personalizes the abstract notion of the displaced masses, making the experiences of the refugees infinitely more real, comprehensible and unforgettable. It individualizes Palestinian narratives of displacement, survival and resistance, making them tangible and irrefutable. Recording the narratives of Palestinian survivors and presenting them through art, literature and film is part of a critical effort to make the unseen seen, and the unheard heard, so that no one can ever say, “I didn’t know.”
For Palestinians living in exile as well as those living under occupation, memory is the engine of their return. Memory allows the Palestinians to envision and to seek the denied security of their homeland and enables them to creatively design the re-construction of their shattered society. Memory inspires the Palestinians to visualize processes to re-assemble the hundreds and thousands of families that have been dismembered and globally scattered in repeated cycles of forced exile, occupation and repression. The Art and literature of survival and resistance serve as the antidotes to forgetting. They help to insure that experiences are preserved and that current and future generations are informed. The Art and literature of survival and resistance implore us to “never forget.”
In the long and active journey toward peace, the persistence of memory leads to acknowledgement, acknowledgement guides us toward justice, justice will carry us to reconciliation; and reconciliation will deliver us to forgiveness.”–John Halaka, February 2015
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
About the artist:
John Halaka is a visual artist and professor of visual arts at the University of San Diego, where he has taught since 1991. He receive his M.F.A. in the visual arts from the University of Houston in 1983, and his B.A. in fine arts from the City University of New York Baccalaureate Program, with Brooklyn college as home school. His artwork and documentary film projects can be seen at johnhalaka.com and sittingcrowproductions.com.