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Ami Steinitz, Curator
In 2019 and 2022, Gil Muallem Doron attended artist residency programs in Umm al-Fahm and Catalonia, Spain. Both sides of the Mediterranean, for him, are fraught with history of displacement and resettlement. His parents were born in Iraq and Bulgaria; he came into the world in London. grew up in Israel. and today lives in Britain. His peregrinations are the results of wars and conflicts that although of ancient origin. have taken on lethal
dimensions in the modern era under the baton of nation-states and advanced weapons. For Gil
Muallem Doran. displacement in its psychological. human and political senses has become the
setting of an artistic quest in which visual language attempts to sense absence that words miss.
This unseen is neither abstract nor vague; instead it is built cumulatively from strata of human
fragments that lack a single way of connecting. Gil Muallem Doran lends a story substance by
combining voices and tools arranging them out of historical order or away from pure formalism and
including documentary web of accounts of displacement and publications of human-rights
organizations. In Umm al Fahm he recorded and photographed the histories of residents who were
banished from the lands of al-Lajjun village near Megiddo in 1948. becoming in effect present
absentees. In Spain. he cross-referenced video clips of built spaces and scenes of water in Gerona
and other cities from which Jews and Muslims had been expelled some becoming anusim (forced
converts). Marranos (crypto-Jews) or Moriscos (crypto-Muslims) living their past as the keepers
of an present-absentee secret.
Muallem Daron's family is linked to the secrets of these anusim. Matana. the original
surname of his father from Iraq, alludes to the family's possible origin in Portugal. His
maternal grandmother speaks Ladino. a language that migrated to Bulgaria with the
deportees from Spain. The personal. social. human. and psychological elements and the unseen and
revealed political forces come together at the exhibition in the manner of the story and its
contemporary mode of representation.
Fluctuations and transitions. frictions and cross-references. relocations and
translocations give these works their composition and their position in the gallery space.
Everything is out of place. unplaced. displaced. One may observe some of the works on one's
smartphone in their entirety by scanning a QR code. Impromptu structures that look like a tent and
walls hover in the air. Archive documentation from al-Lajjun is superimposed on the images of
refugees from the village who now live in Umm al-Fahm; they clutch and present "blank pages" as a
way of mentioning and resisting the wasteland myth. The absence of the place to which Gil Muallem
Doran gives presence in his works challenges and reflects upon the sense of present time by
arranging an encounter with a Jewish Arab fate from another era-roughly corresponding to the
discovery of America at the onset of Western colonialism and to a present pursued by its
specters. The foreignness that these phantoms created is experienced in this non-place. bearing a
muteness that the works imagine as a place of dialogue.
Contemporary art no longer offers one more repaired future reality; instead. it implants
possible sensations. thoughts. and forms in existential moments of a palpable society. A
possible metaphor. writes Walter Benjamin in his Theses on the Philosophy of History, is tethered
inseparably to the metaphor of redemption and also finds expression in its observation of
the past. Benjamin relates to the past as a culture that has collapsed; he seeks a way to
reassemble it by means of unfulfilled possibilities. For this purpose. the works act among the
various strata of quotidian life. among facade. narrative. images. communities. ideas. and
politics. and by means of practices that urge the viewers of art to participate in its preparation
Benjamin's hopes of reorganization proved fruitless. In World War II. Benjamin fled for his life
from the Germans who pursued him on account of his Jewishness. He managed to cross into Spain but
took his life there in the belief that he would be extradited and not given asylum. He was interred
in an unmarked provisional grave in a Catholic cemetery overlooking the Mediterranean. his bones
scattered and their place unknown. Thus he became a kind of Marrano. in his death in Spain.
"Passages," a monument created by the artist Dani Karavan in the memory of Benjamin and of
refugees generally, is inserted amid video clips of the scenes of water and built spaces from which
all expellees from Spain were sent into exile. The Mediterranean today is the same sea that
connects the historical strands with the present - a sea that is at once a place of yearning
and of loss. a sea where on the border of Jaffa Mualem Doron photographed an expectation of
returning along with a Palestinian student. This non-place place like the sea carries a
historical trauma and present-day fears that become at the exhibition an understructure of art
that floats like a raft across an unsteady reality.
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