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Noor Abuarafeh

Venue: Gropius Bau

Noor Abuarafeh

Born 1986 in Jerusalem, PS – lives and works in Cairo, EG, and Jerusalem

Palestinian artist Noor Abuarafeh’s video Am I the ageless object at the museum? (2018) begins with a visit to the zoo. As the camera pans across several animal enclosures, the narrator muses about animals big and small, and their similarity to people. The brief journey from insect to whale is also a digression into the chronopolitical dimension of archival institutions, whose objects are said to be ageless, “not of our time.” Once assembled inside the museum, they bring into being a plethora of other abstract entities: state, taxonomy, history and prehistory, ethnography, national heritage.

The zoo, a collection of animals, also conforms to the institutional congruity of the museum form, which is ultimately what sustains the asymmetry between collector and collected, the one who sees and those who are seen, devivifying the animal and sucking the life out of the living. In a zoo, all animals are taxidermy mounts, pinned butterflies, comatose or frantic shells of their former wild selves. But there is another hidden dimension to these rugged, unfortunate creatures. They are beasts burdened with our hopes and anxieties as emblems, symbols, or tokens. The whale in particular is a symbol of statecraft, the Leviathan, a mythical beast made to carry the weight of the social contract and the body politic. As the film draws to a close, the narrator imagines the process of becoming a whale: basking in the sunlight as his back begins to attract a multitude of winged creatures. He feels the pricks as they feast on his flesh and wonders whether it is his or the whale’s body that is being eaten.

Much has been written about the relation between collections, nation-building, and colonial legacies. But Abuarafeh shows us that if the museum worlds, it can also unworld. Shadowing her musings on the nature of collections is the perpetually unrealized, or unrealizable project of the Palestinian Museum—the institution of a state, undone.

Ana Teixeira Pinto

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