Emily Jacir 'Europa' at the Whitechapel Gallery

Sunday 18 October 2015

I quite regularly mention the Whitechapel Gallery - most recently I wrote about the just-finished Children's Commission, Rivane Neuenschwander's The Name of Fear. I paid another visit to the gallery last week with a spare hour, without knowing whether there'd be anything new, but sure enough Palestinian artist Emily Jacir's show Europa had opened a couple of weeks previous.

The first piece on the ground floor is Material for a film, a fascinating peek into the life and death of Palestinian translator Wael Zwaiter, assassinated by Mossad agents in 1972 during Operation Wrath of God. Part installation, part archive, the piece shows correspondence with his family, quotes from friends and colleagues, personal photographs and an insight into his intellectual life - his books, the pages of Dante's Divine Comedy he carried around in an envelope, and the volume of A Thousand and One Nights pierced by the thirteenth bullet in his assassination. Political discussions of Israel and Palestine are fraught with tension, but it was very interesting to see a prominent Palestinian through the eyes of a Palestinian artist.

Amongst her other works on the first floor of the gallery, I was particularly taken with Change/Exchange (Jacir's first performance piece), in which she took a hundred dollar bill and changed it into francs, successively changing it between currencies until all that was left was unchangeable coins - displayed through the receipts for each transaction and a photograph of the shop. I thought it was a really interesting exploration of the idea of translation, a physical way of looking at what is lost through transferral - especially interesting in relation to the display of Material for a film, given Zwaiter's work as a translator. The second piece that really caught my eye was ex libris, an installation created from an 'archive of thousands of books belonging to Palestinians', looted in 1948 and now sitting in the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem, where 'they are catalogued under A.P (Abandoned Property)'. It's all in all a great show of Jacir's work, and I've found a new artist to follow. Highly recommended!

FIND 'EUROPA' AT: The Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, Whitechapel, London E1 7QX (until 3rd January 2016)

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