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Ramallah: A Portrait of Works and Days

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 07.01.2010:

By Dr. Robert Weston

Is there a Man whom incorrupt we call,

Who fits alike unprejudic’d to all,

By him the City flourishes in Peace,

Her Borders lengthen, and her Sons increase; From him far-seeing Jove will drive afar All civil Discord, and the Rage of War.

No Days of Famine to the Righteous fall, But all is Plenty, and delightful all.

Hesiod, Works and Days (II. 225-237)

And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

In collaboration with the Municipality of Ramallah, Cuban photographer Jorge Alberto Perez has undertaken an intimate photographic portrait of the city to be exhibited in March 2010 at the Ottoman Court in Ramallah. Taking Hesiod’s poem Works and Days as his point of departure for the project, Perez has spent his own days walking the city.

Hesiod’s Works and Days celebrates the value of work and depicts a city that is rewarded with peace and prosperity, where a sense of community is the vital underpinning of every citizen’s success. The fundamental value of pride in work, however elevated or mundane, is the guiding spirit for Perez’s visual mediation on daily life in Palestine’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan city. “Ramallah: A Portrait of Works and Days” breaks with conventional depictions of the city that orient the eye to monumental images of “progress” and urban development. Rather than depict shimmering new buildings and verdant parks, Perez turns his lens to the more intimate gestures and complex textures of the cityscape, focusing on the daily rhythms of people at work and play and thus framing the city on a human scale, rather than from an architectural or metropolitan perspective. The resulting portrait is a visual mosaic that captures a pulsing city of contrasts whose inhabitants manage to fill their lives with joy and purpose, despite the hardships caused by the occupation.

The portrait Perez has composed is not about hardship at all; on the contrary, his images celebrate the unique aesthetic of Ramallah’s streets and explore universal human themes emotionally accessible to anyone. The accumulation of “Days” that make up this portrait of Ramallah renders quotidian moments in poignant, at times solemn poetry. At the same time, the exhibit discovers beauty in the most unexpected places. “Ramallah: A Portrait of Works and Days” transforms the city into an enormous canvas, a palimpsest of papered walls, weathered stone, wooden carts, commercial goods, and many, many faces.

The curators hope that this portrait will present, even to those most familiar with the city, a moving, at times surprising vision of the many facets of Ramallah.

The mission of the exhibition, co-curated with Fatin Farhat, director of the cultural unit of the Municipality of Ramallah, is to present images of the city that work to supplant the internationally disseminated clichés of rock-throwers and conflicts at checkpoints. On a global scale, the very mention of Ramallah brings to mind these distorted images. Although the violence and conflict continue, a visual shift in paradigm is long overdue in public impressions of the cultural centre of the West Bank. Through his daily walks, Perez has come to know his subjects personally, sharing coffee or tea, returning often and staying long enough to become “invisible.” This approach to the project has enabled him to capture candid and truly authentic moments. The exhibition will have an accompanying book to be distributed to Palestinian consulates around the world, and the show is tentatively scheduled to travel to Amman, Cairo, Paris, and Berlin.

The exhibition will open with a reception at the Ottoman Court in Ramallah on 4 March at 6 p.m. and will remain on view until 18 March. Visit to see more of Perez’s work and for more information on this and other cultural events at the municipality.

Dr. Robert Weston is director of faculty and curricular development and professor of philosophy and literature at Bard Honors College, Al-Quds University. He is a founding member of The Center for Architecture, Media and Politics (CAMP) based in the West Bank.

TWIP January 2010

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