Photo London 2019
Thursday 16 – Sunday 19 May, 2019
l’étrangere is pleased to announce its participation at the Discovery section of Photo London with a solo presentation of Joanna Rajkowska. Booth D5.
Joanna Rajkowska is interested in uncovering collective memories, tensions and desires. Her works often function as interventions in public urban spaces where they activate layers of meanings, both historical and ideological. Although Rajkowska’s works often provoke and reveal lines of conflicts, they serve at the same time as platforms for dialogue.
During her residency in Ramallah in 2018, Rajkowska realised that the long process of conflict and uprooting of the population had left an emotional and an ecological waste land. She was struck by the condition of the environment which was not only full of dust, waste and detritus but also was lacking any signs of care, respect and love for the land. Her concerns were amplified by rampant consumerism and the complete lack of interest, ignorance and frank abuse of the land by its developers.
Rajkowska, however, was desperately trying to find traces of old native bonds to the Palestinian land amongst its inhabitants. Not a rhetoric of ethnic belonging, but a connection to the actual matter of earth. She found a curious collection of stones, gathered from the Palestinian hills over the last fitteen years by one Mohamad Badwan. She thought this showed exactly the love and care for inorganic matter that had been disappearing. The stones in Mohamad’s collection are special. He picked them up because he saw other features in them such as skulls, both human and animal, faces, mouths, birds, dinosaur eggs and biomorphic growths. His stones are a result of careful observation of the ground. It has not been an abstract territory he observed, the symbolic Promised Land, the axis of conflict, but just the ground, the living surface of the Earth. His collection has been put on display, carefully composed, in his shop in Ramallah. The shelves are weighed down by hundreds of his finds, the counter hosts some of the „fruits” and the entrance is rammed with „dinosaur eggs”. The stones have relationships to each other and Mohamad suffers if his compositions are altered.
In 1922, The Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society published a seminal article about Palestinian rituals and beliefs: The Haunted Springs and Wells of Palestine by Tawfiq Canaan. In the article, Canaan wrote extensively about the rites of every day life that were similar, if not identical, for Muslims, Jews and Christians. The hills, shrines, wells and trees bound people together, a landscape that hosted one diverse and rich culture. Traditional beliefs were stronger than religious differences. In his article, Canaan explored the common belief that demons inhabited a subterranean domain. According to him certain natural features – springs, wells, crevasses, trees – had been connected to this netherworld and so had been haunted by demons. These are the liminal places where shrines were traditionally erected and rites performed. These demons and the sites they inhabit were associated with the most ill-omened planet, Saturn, so rites were performed to ward off malign influence. Canaan realized that these traditional beliefs, which tied the people to the land and to each other, have been weakening. Yet Mohamed Badwan and his stones show that there is still another side to the story.
Rajkowska saw references to Canaan’s demons in Mohamad’s stones. In these stones, she sees the intensity of non-human life, and a real bond to the land. The result of the project is a photographic series depicting the surreal, enigmatic and ambiguous ‘personality’ and ‘portraits’ of the stones from Badwan’s collection.