Notice at the Jeu de Paume in Response to the Controversy about “Phantom Homes”

A major controversy roils French “high culture” these days concerning an exhibit at the Jeu de Paume museum (where, in the old days – my youth – the Impressionists used to be housed). Called Phantom Home, the exhibit displays the photography of a Bedouin Israeli woman named Ahlam Shibli, the central part of which is dedicated to photographing the way Palestinian society honors and celebrates the “martyrs” of their “resistance” to the Israeli “occupation.” A tastefully done series – not a hint of the blood these “martyrs” shed when blowing themselves up in public places in Israel, often chosen for the high incidence of children – it has nonetheless stirred controversy among “Pro-Israel” figures who object to its content. In response, the Minister of Culture has asked the Museum to put up a notice explaining that the exhibit’s text was provided by the artist and not the museum.

This is the text of the notice, which appears in several places of the exhibit.

To avoid misunderstandings, the Jeu de Paume wishes to make it clear that the artist Ahlam Shibli’s series Death, a work centered on images, in neither propaganda, nor an apology for terrorism.

As the artist herself explains, “I am not a militant. My work is to show, not to denounce or to judge.”

Death explores the way in which dead or imprisoned Palestinians – “martyrs,” according to the term that Ahlam Shibli reuses – are represented in public and private spaces (posters and graffiti in the streets, inscriptions on tombs, shrines and mementos inside homes, etc.), thereby regaining a presence in their community.

All the photographs in this series are accompanied by captions written by the artist that are inseparable from the images.

It would be harder to find a better illustration of the surrealistic doubletalk that the French have so grown accustomed to, that they don’t even realize how absurd they sound. Okay, ceci n’est pas une pipe, but a drawing of une pipe. This is not propaganda, it’s photographs of war propaganda: virtually every martyr hero appears with his weaponry; the partisan (and deeply misleading) language of “resistance” to “occupation” of “disappeared” or “imprisoned” fathers of families defines the presentation.

Whatever Shibli claims about herself, she’s heavily judgmental – her fellow Bedouins who joined the IDF are selling out their souls to the occupier in order to get a comfortable home, the French who suffered the Nazi occupation turned around and fought to occupy Indochina and Algeria, while her “martyrs” get not one word of disapproval for targeting children.

Far from distancing themselves from the text of Shibli’s exhibition, the curators actually confirmed them.

Alas, poor France, I knew her well.

10 Responses to Notice at the Jeu de Paume in Response to the Controversy about “Phantom Homes”

  1. Gershon says:

    I commented on this 17 June, http://www.ejpress.org/article/66681

    “I am deeply disturbed by this exhibition, which I believe incites violence and could provoke more acts of violence against Israel. This is unacceptable.” Polish EU MK Kaminski
    Why is Kaminski the only one asking why “A state-funded institution has de facto given a voice to the notion that murdering Israeli citizens is justifiable.”
    Interestingly, Kaminski is accused of being right-wing:B

    “Since Kaminski’s appointment as leader of the parliamentary group, he has been accused of having had antisemitic and homophobic leanings in his past. He is now a member of the Polish Law and Justice party (PiS), which is currently in opposition and is the party of the Polish president, and insists that he left the National Revival of Poland party in 1989, before it became a fascist organisation – although others challenge that claim.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/oct/18/conservatives-hid-past-european-ally
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/20/holocaust-michal-kaminski

  2. Dr Landes said:

    Whatever Shibli claims about herself, she’s heavily judgmental – her fellow Bedouins who joined the IDF are selling out their souls to the occupier in order to get a comfortable home, the French who suffered the Nazi occupation turned around and fought to occupy Indochina and Algeria, while her “martyrs” get not one word of disapproval for targeting children.

    Her mindset must be due to the warrior culture that permeates the Arab/Muslim world. Ms Shibli must have internalized the warrior role-model that Arab/Muslim societies spew:

    http://www.theaugeanstables.com/2006/05/16/honor-shame-comments-on-dr-sanity-long/

    (this is, to my mind, one of the most enlightening posts of Dr Landes on honor-shame cultures)

    I quote David Gutmann from the link:

    The traditional Bedouin created a nearly pure “Shame” culture, whose goal was to avoid humiliation, and to acquire sharraf – honor. Thus, the goal of the Bedouin raid is not to finally win a war, for such inter-tribal conflict is part of the honorable way of life, and should never really end. The essential goals of the raid are to take wealth – not only in goods, but also in honor – and to impose shame on the enemy. Any opponent worth fighting is by definition honorable, and pieces of his honor can be ripped from him in a successful raid, to be replaced by figments of the attacker’s shame. The successful attacker has “exported” some personal shame to the enemy, and the enemy’s lost honor has been added to the raider’s store.

    And Dr Landes responded to the above quote:

    This paragraph is worth its weight in gold. Excellent description of the zero-sum world of warrior honor-shame. For a poetic expression from pre-Islamic Arab culture (Jahaliyya), see here. This logic is long-run, not temporary; this is a world of zero-sum, plunder or be plundered, kill or be killed, rule or be ruled. Honor, especially the honor of the alpha male, dominates the cultural rules. If this is the logic of relations with the honorable, imagine how one treats the dishonored, the shameless. This cultural logic may have an ancestry of tens of thousands of years, and represents a stage that most “higher” “civilizations” have gone through on their way to becoming aristocratic empires. It is certainly part of the longue duree of human culture, and cannot be easily changed. Nor should one either trifle with or appease it.

    I just came upon a MEMRI video which clearly depicts this warrior mentality: just watch the face of the cleric while he recites an ancient story of a Muslim warrior, watch the hyperbole in admiration in the face of the cleric while he talks about the Muslim warrior:

    http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/2012.htm

    (if the link does not open the first time, click it again and it will).

    Interestingly, the cleric shows the same disregard for civilian life and children of the other side as Ms Shibli does, even while he is praising the Muslim warrior for his honorable act not to kill an enemy infidel woman: he commends the warrior for sparing the life of the woman, but in the next sentences he asks Allah to annihilate all Americans (therefore, civilians included), because they provide weaponry to Israel. Warrior mindsets make people so retarded as to be unable to spot contradictions. Then again, it is not experienced by the cleric as a contradiction: the warrior zero-sum attitude simply discounts the “Other”, the American or Jewish civilians simply do not enter the cleric’s brain as human beings, but as objects that, if killed, will restore the Muslim honor. The ancient warrior’s sparing of the woman was dominated by the same logic, he was perceiving the woman not as human, but as an opportunity for gaining honor. He didn’t kill her not because he felt compassion, but because he wanted to show-off as being compassionate.

    But what does the cleric have to say for the Europeans, who are more dhimmi-like towards the Muslims compared to Americans? He only asks Allah to annihilate their leaders. So i disagree with Dr Landes that we should not appease the Islamists: if we do accept to be second-class citizens in Europe and we acknowledge the Muslim superiority, the Islamists will probably spare us, they will not kill us!

    I look forward to the Eurabian future, we will all be saying: “Thank God it’s Friday (sermon)”!!!

    • I said the warrior didn’t kill the woman because he wanted to show off. But it might have been the case that he just didn’t want to dishonor Allah’s sword by killing a woman. Either way, the woman did not enter his honor-shame calculations as a human being, but as an opportunity for (or threat to) his honor.

      So don’t cherchez le femme, she simply isn’t there in the Islamist mindset. It’s all about the alpha-male barbarians and their theocratic delusions.

    • w.w.wygart says:

      I like Dionissis’ David Gutmann quote a lot. It harmonizes well with my understanding of the underlying cultural psychology of the subject of honor-shame cultures. For instance the plains Indians of North America have a concept called ‘counting coup’ which is another encapsulation of this honor-shame warrior meme, which is the winning of prestige – honor – in battle by risking injury, capture, or death at the hands of a worthy enemy, namely one able to injure, capture or kill you. From Wikipedia:

      Counting coup refers to the winning of prestige in battle by the Plains Indians of North America. Warriors won prestige by acts of bravery in the face of the enemy, and these acts could be recorded in various ways and retold as stories. Any blow struck against the enemy counted as a coup, but the most prestigious acts included touching an enemy warrior with the hand, bow, or with a coup stick then escaping unharmed. Touching the first enemy to die in battle or touching the enemy’s defensive works also counted as coup. Counting coup could also involve stealing an enemy’s weapons or horses tied up to his lodge in camp. Risk of injury or death was required to count coup.

      Sound familiar anyone?

      As an aside, I might add the descendants of those Plains Indians today and their apologists will tell you what a wonderful way of being this was because it tended to minimize the actual killing of opponents in battle and is thus a sign of superiority of their culture. This may be true as far as it goes in that for a band of nomadic or semi-nomadic hunters the loss of even one or two warriors could be a devastating loss and thus any set of cultural practices that tended to minimize such losses would be a very good thing. However, this system also required every generation of young men, in order to be inducted into manhood, to go off and steal some horses from some ‘other’ group of Indians which tended to maintain a state of endemic warfare between tribes. The over all effect was to make any lasting peace or cooperation between tribes impossible to maintain. To be fair though, the Plains Indians weren’t that much different in this respect than the knuckle-headed, iron age, cattle rustling Irish or any other warrior society throughout history.

      What are little boys thinking they are doing when they throw rocks at checkpoints?

      For the honor-bound warrior, an enemy who surrenders or is captured under ‘dishonorable’ circumstances suddenly loses all honor and with it the prestige associated with him being a warrior and thus subject to immediate or arbitrary death. Many of the atrocities committed against US and allied soldiers by the Japanese military in WWII, derived from this very concept – very Bushido – that when a warrior ‘surrenders’ or quits battle he also surrenders his honor and worthiness to live – and thus is subject to immediate execution, or the most inhumane of treatment. It doesn’t necessarily reflect on a capturer’s honor to kill a POW, the person is without honor and no shame can accrue to him – so long as his overlord is in agreement that is – if your overlord is of a different opinion then – shame upon YOU.

      So, this is what we’re up against.

      In regards to Dionissis’ statement about the video he linked to.

      “Interestingly, the cleric shows the same disregard for civilian life and children of the other side as Ms Shibli does, even while he is praising the Muslim warrior for his honorable act not to kill an enemy infidel woman: he commends the warrior for sparing the life of the woman, but in the next sentences he asks Allah to annihilate all Americans (therefore, civilians included), because they provide weaponry to Israel. Warrior mindsets make people so retarded as to be unable to spot contradictions.”

      I don’t think this is really a contradiction for the warrior mind, just an example of the popular but antique notion stated so perfectly in the LXI fragment of Heraclitus:

      They say that it is unfitting that the sight of wars should please the gods. But it is not so. For noble works delight them, and while wars and battles seem to us terrible, to God they do not seem so. For God in his dispensation of all events, perfects them into a harmony of the whole, just as, indeed, Heraclitus says that “to God all things are beautiful and good and right, though men suppose that some are right and others wrong.†

      For the warrior it might be dishonorable to kill someone – a woman for instance – who has essentially no honor in their cultural understanding to parasite, but it is perfectly acceptable to appeal to ‘Authority’ to have that job done for you. This is the Wilber fulcrum three: ‘my-tribe’, ‘red meme’, egocentric, power/dominance, mythological thinking, representational-mind in operation. Seems illogical and a contradiction to someone operating out of a higher level mind-space, but is internally consistent to someone operating out of the mind space that says that Big Daddy in the Sky will solve your worldly problems that you can’t solve for yourself for some reason – including the prohibitions of Big Daddy’s that you are subject to – if you ask in just the right way He’ll do the deed for you – shame free.

      W^3

      † The Fragments of the Work of Heraclitus of Ephesus on Nature, G.T.W. Patrick, Murray, 1889, p.99

  3. [...] into heroic martyrs. In response to (“communautriste”) complaints of Jews, the museum posted a formal notice denying that this was propaganda. It was not only the ugliest of war propaganda, but Jihadi [...]

  4. [...] into heroic martyrs. In response to (“communautriste”) complaints of Jews, the museum posted a formal notice denying that this was propaganda. It was not only the ugliest of war propaganda, but Jihadi [...]

  5. [...] objections poured in. The museum’s response was to post a notice that insisted that this was not propaganda and quoted the artist insisting that she was “not a [...]

  6. [...] objections poured in. The museum’s response was to post a notice that insisted that this was not propaganda and quoted the artist insisting that she was “not a [...]

  7. [...] objections poured in. The museum’s response was to post a notice that insisted that this was not propaganda and quoted the artist insisting that she was “not a [...]

  8. w.w.wygart says:

    French ‘haute culture’ may be getting a little ‘low brow’.

    I’m of two minds about this exhibition at the Jeu de Paume. On the one hand it seems to be in shockingly bad taste – to people who have good taste. Not the images themselves, no, the shocking lack of a balance of context – which I touch on more later. So what do you do to with such déclassé people? stop inviting them to the nice parties [which they will really hate] and leave them to hang out with their new Palestinian friends? The exhibit is also somehow – lame – the visionary quality that one might hope for at a leading museum in one of the worlds [formerly?] great cultural capitals just doesn’t seem to be there. It took “hundreds of thousands” of images by Ahlam Shibli to distill down to this? – très ordinaire. On any given day there are a dozen different photographers of greater merit on PhotoBotos. Ok, completely average, so be it.

    On the other hand, I think that people ought to see all of these little shrines to ‘martyrdom’ and how they are endlessly recycled into propaganda. It’s one thing to first see the little family shrine of some suicide bomber kept by his little sister in his bedroom at home, then see it continually remanufactured on street corners and walls though out the Muslim world – it should then give the Parisians a little queazy feeling when they start seeing it stenciled on walls around town. Or maybe it won’t, the French are too far gone to notice or they’ll just stick a ‘ruban bleu’ on it and call it ‘art’.

    In my time out on the Indian reservation I used to see a lot of little shrines like this in people’s homes. The guy [or girl] might have been a habitual drunk and a small time crook, in and out of jail, but he was your son, or your brother, uncle or cousin [everyone was a cousin of some kind or other] he had a place in the social order and you probably had a lot of good memories of him, maybe it was getting drunk together or broken down on the highway to Parmalee. Somehow you have to rectify the image of your relative ‘post hoc’. These little shrines help, I can understand that. Its just when they are taken outside the “home” and remanufactured into propaganda that it really becomes a problem in itself.

    The example I always like to use is that of Waffa Idris, the suicide bomber who blew herself up outside a Jerusalem pizzeria in 2002 killing one and wounding a hundred others. Her mother was interviewed at her home in Brooke Goldstein and Alistair Leyland’s 2006 documentary, “The Making of a Martyr”.

    At minute 21:00

    Interviewer: Amid all of these events, did you feel proud of her? Are you glad she is a martyr?

    Mother: She did nothing bad, by God. My mind tells me she did nothing wrong. It is something that raises the head. However, when I remember her I start crying, and people say I should recover and not to cry.

    People do need these ways to cope. There should be a special place for people who exploit that for political ends though.

    My first complaint for the Musée Jeu de Paume is the contradiction between the statement by the ‘artist’, “I am not a militant. My work is to show, not to denounce or to judge,” and the statement by the musée, “…captions written by the artist that are inseparable from the images.” Somebody, Ulrich Loock? who? ought to hauled out on the carpet for that one. If the photos are an honest representation, they should be able to stand on their own. He or another curator ought to be able to give them a proper context – that’s what curators do. When explanations are attached inseparably by the artist, you can be fairly sure you are in the presence of something other than art – could be just crap, but you never know. That’s why we have museum professionals to sort these things out.

    My main complaint comes from reading this article at the Jeau de Paume website, by as best I can tell either Urlich or Christine Loock [http://lemagazine.jeudepaume.org/2013/06/ulrich-loock-ahlam-shibli-at-jeu-de-paume/] The last paragraph of the article focuses on the series Death, which is what I think we are mostly talking about on here:

    In her most recent work, Death, Ahlam focuses one more time on the biopolitical consequences of the Palestinians” fight for their home. The work is concerned with the representation of martyrs and actors of martyrdom operations, men, women and children who lost their lives as a consequence of the Israeli occupation of Palestine or used their own bodies to carry explosives aimed at Israelis. The martyrs didn’t have anything to invest in support of the homeland except their bodies – for them it is true what Mofokeng says, they arrived home only “below that patch of mound”. All these people are dead which makes it impossible to represent them photographically. Ahlam therefore chose to take pictures of representations of the dead that cover the walls of Palestinian streets and guest rooms, posters, photos, graffiti – representations that confirm and mythologize the continued presence of the deceased in the Palestinian society. Turned into a representation of representation in a certain way photography gives up its power of representation. It does not represent anymore that which is excluded from representation, it does not function to recognize the unrecognized, and it does not need to be concerned with avoiding reification and victimization through photographic representation. It collapses into virtual congruence with what it is the picture of. In that way it might be said that photography, turned into the representation of representation, matches the immediacy that characterizes the martyrdom operation, the killing of Israelis through a Palestinian body carrying explosives: the total negation of the other equals the total negation of the self, death is shared death, epitomized by the mixing of the flesh and the blood of the self and the other in the blast.

    Artspeak, blech!

    The whole article is is like this, the complete intellectual vacuum, no trace of a recognition that their discussion has been completely consumed by a single and biased point of view, in this case the Palestinian POV. Someone ought to lose their job over this. This is what curators are supposed to prevent, the loss of the museum’s credibility by allowing the artists point of view to overwhelm the public’s need for an appropriate context and understanding for the art.

    Information in the service of ideology is propaganda.

    Art gets no exemption from this law.

    W^3

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