Coming to terms with the devastation of your home – the soil you were raised on – is no easy feat. But 31-year-old Palestinian artist Hazem Harb, who lived his childhood through the conflict in Gaza, manages to articulate his loss in a raw exhibition entitled ‘I Can Imagine You Without your Home’.
The show, which runs at Gallery Etemad from Monday February 20 until Wednesday March 14, features a series of eerie monochrome photographs, as well as a video, light box and installation. The works depict the war-torn Gaza and what remains of the area now: dilapidated ruins, abandoned beds, and empty shells of houses in the emotive works.
Harb presents a first-hand account of the despair and destruction that the people of the region have lived with for years, as he explores the relationship between the invasion of private space and people suffering through conflict. Here’s what he had to say about the exhibition.
Why did you choose to shoot in black and white, rather than colour? Colour images tend to make the eye focus on more than one area of the image. This is why I choose to work with black and white images. It fits the overall theme of the works as it highlights shape subtly, without departing from the periphery of the image. It also shows the intimate and tragic sense of the scenes depicted.
When were these images taken? They were documented in 2008 during the recent war in Gaza, but I also photographed more houses in 2010, when I returned to the area. Everything was utterly destroyed and it was impossible to begin rebuilding it, because of the siege taking place on Gaza Strip. Walking around the ruins, there was complete silence, yet these spaces were public: anyone could walk through these destroyed homes. Later on, due to extensive reconstruction and a return of privacy, people inhabited these once-empty spaces, bringing new life to the area.
Were you ever frightened while capturing these images? I feel sadness and anxiety more than fear, but there are always questions being raised in my mind. I lived my childhood though the endless conflict, and there is a large mixture of contradictory emotions when looking at these scenes.
Which areas of Gaza did you focus on in particular? I took these pictures in many areas that have been targeted in the attack on Gaza. I looked at homes in particular, focusing on more intimate spaces, such as bedrooms, which were in public view. I focused on intricate details such as beds, pillows, mattresses, and the shape of the rooms after the devastation.
What do these photos represent? They represent a scene, a ruin, a violation, the sanctity of the people and their privacy in war. I wanted to capture this invasion of privacy and draw attention to these things that are forgotten, or often overlooked by the media.
What is the significance of the bed/mattress Installation? This five-piece mattress installation represents the remains left behind in the forced displacement of Palestinians from their country of origin to different parts of the world. You would observe people rolling up their mattresses and fleeing the conflict. It represents instability and mobility at the same time. I have another piece, a light box and neon work entitled ‘Have a good Dream! 2012’; although it has a slightly humorous title, it’s a contradiction of the situation of war. I’ve incorporated half-moon neon on the surface of a photographic light-box image depicting a room in ruins. It’s wishing the people who lived here sweet dreams, as if this is something someone living in these conditions can ever attain.