Artist Tackles Israel-Palestine Conflict with Surrealist Science Fiction

Wednesday, 13 January 2016 - 1:30PM
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 - 1:30PM
Artist Tackles Israel-Palestine Conflict with Surrealist Science Fiction
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It sounds preposterous, but one of Palestine's best-known artists, Larissa Sansour, is putting a sci-fi spin on current events in the Middle East, and it's actually pretty breathtaking.


Palestinian Sci-Fi Art
[Sansour, Still from Nation Estate - Olive Tree, 2011]

Sansour was born in Jerusalem, at the heart of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. This conflict arose over Zionist (the extremist minority of the Jewish population) colonization of Palestinian land in order to create a Jewish homeland. As more and more Zionists immigrated to Palestine - many with the sole purpose of taking over the land for a Jewish state - the indigenous population became increasingly alarmed, and fighting broke out. The UN intervened by partitioning the land, giving 55% of Palestine to a Jewish state despite the fact that the Zionists represented only about 30% of the total population, and owned under 7% of the land. This did little to appease the native Palestinians, or the power-hungry Zionists, and war broke out. Today, the battle for ownership continues, and relations are still very heated. 

Palestinian Sci-Fi Art
[Sansour, Still from Nation Estate, 2011]

All of this political friction shaped Sansour and, along with classic science fiction tropes, has inspired her artistic endeavors. So far, it is the political nature of her work that has garnered the most interest; in 2011 she was removed from the shortlist for the Lacoste Prize for being "too Palestinian." The prize was later cancelled that year. However, Sansour's notoriety only grew from this incident; she told The Art Newspaper that "many people, particularly from the UAE [United Arab Emirates], started buying the sketches I had made of Nation Estate and they sold like mad... I was even invited to the UN a few times to talk about human rights and freedom of speech!"

Palestinian Sci-Fi Art
[Sansour, Still from In The Future, They Ate from the Finest Porcelain, 2015]

Apart from the aforementioned scandal, Sansour is best known for her short films "A Space Exodus," about a fictional Palestinian woman astronaut's landing on the moon, and "Nation Estate," which envisions a dystopic Palestine as a skyscraper, with each floor representing a different city. Her latest film, "In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain" explores the ramifications of determining land ownership with archaelogical evidence and completes the sci-fi trilogy on the Middle East. The trilogy will be part of several art exhibitions taking place in the UK this year.

A Space Exodus from The Oakland Standard on Vimeo.



Nation Estate (clip) from larissa sansour on Vimeo.



Her main collaborator, Soren Lind, explains the inspiration behind In The Future, "After Nation Estate, we became interested in archeology... So the film follows a Palestinian who decides to manipulate the age of these bowls.  Israel is the only country I know whose newspapers treat archaeological discoveries as front-page stories. If something is found, it means something else for the present."

Palestinian Sci-Fi Art
[Sansour, Still from In The Future, They Ate from the Finest Porcelain, 2015]

Both Sansour and Lind speak to the science fiction aspect of their work, especially in relation to its political nature:

Opening quote
"I have done a couple of short documentaries in the past and have always found it a problem that in this form you have to take on the role of analyzer," Sansour explains. "I think when you do something such as sci-fi, it catapults Palestinians into a completely different domain- they become people with autonomy, they are high tech, they have a cool factor, and they are talking about things we associate with progress. But also I think it's really difficult to talk about whats happening in Palestine without becoming surreal."
Closing quote


Opening quote
"A lot of people who are doing work about Palestine - Larissa and I included- tend to become almost employed by reality," said Lind. "You immediately feel an enormous responsibility... this often ends up making a mirror image of reality, but where are the comments, suggestions, ideas or solutions? Sci-fi does the exact opposite... all of a sudden, it's a pathway to a new vision."
Closing quote

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