The Found Archive of Hani Jawherieh is an exhibition looking at the personal films and photos of the eponymous Palestinian photographer and cinematographer. It opened last week at the P21 Gallery in London.
Hani Jawherieh (1939-1976) was a Palestinian photographer and cinematographer and one of the founders of the Palestine Film Unit. He is known for his images of Palestinian resistance and freedom fighters of the 1960s and 1970s, and for his documentation of the expulsion of Palestinians during the sixties. Killed in 1976 while in Lebanon documenting a battle between Palestinian fighters, much of Hani's work was looted by the Israeli Army during its 1982 invasion of the country.
The exhibition is part of filmmaker and curator Azza El-Hassan's "Void Project", which looks at the effect of Israel's seizure of records of Palestinian existence and culture on the Palestinian visual narrative. It explores the intricacies of what it means to be able to uncover Palestinian visual materials that have been hidden for decades.
For the first time, Hani Jawherieh's personal collection of films and photos, hidden for 37 years, is showcased in what is unparalleled access to a past Palestinian archive. Recovering his work, El-Hassan engages in the process of reconstructing Palestinian self and national consciousness and identity, which has long been an existential challenge facing Palestinians and the Palestinian national movement.
One example of this process can be seen through the intimate portraits of Palestinian refugees that Jawherieh captured during their flight from Palestine to neighbouring countries; the rediscovery of these portraits is vital in the reconstruction of the Palestinian historical narrative surrounding earlier days of national resistance. As El-Hassan explains, "Before that, the main photographs of Palestinian refugees used to come from UNRWA and the agency used to film Palestinians as masses. Because Hani is a Palestinian himself, they were not a mass, they were individual people and he wanted to capture that."
Challenged and destroyed systematically, the preservation and restoration of the Palestinian visual archive is an act of creative resistance in a space in which agency is continuously shrinking for Palestinian artists. Gaining new-found prominence and utility in recent years, work to rediscover Palestinian national archives has led a number of filmmakers to restorative projects that seek to fill the void created by decades of suppression and censorship.
In commenting on the importance of the exhibition in the current context, El-Hassan notes: "There are lots of people working on archives now and I think everything else is collapsing around us as Palestinians – the leadership has collapsed, the political momentum has collapsed… lots of people are finding these things in order to say this is us, this is our culture. Archive material is important for us to be able to narrate our own stories."
As she notes, while the act of cultural looting is not exclusive to the State of Israel, with other nations frequently weaponising the practice as a means through which to manipulate historical narratives, Israel is unique in that it has operationalised the practice systematically and repeatedly against Palestinians. In regard to the latter, El-Hassan alludes to the fact that Israel has distinctively operationalised the practice transnationally, such as during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in an effort to deny Palestinians any archives underpinning their cultural and historical narrative.
In this light, exhibitons such as The Found Archive of Hani Jawherieh provide a necessary and often overlooked forum through which to discuss the Palestinian narrative amdist the continual attempts to manipulate it.
The exhibition is running at the P21 Gallery in London until 30 November 2019. To hear more about individual and institutional efforts towards a formalised Palestinian audiovisual archive, Azza El-Hassan will be chairing a panel discussion titled "The Void Project: Archiving Palestine" at P21 Gallery on 27 November.