Khalil Rabah | New Sites for the Museum Departments or Four Places to Visit Heaven
Show on view until April 7
Palestinian artist Khalil Rabah began working on his ongoing project The Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind in 1995. More than 20 years on, the latest iteration of this complex enquiry into history, and the ways in which it is socially constructed through material steeped in identity and culture, is a fascinating blend of fact and fiction. Presenting four different departments in this imagined museum – the Botanical Department, the Earth and Solar System Department, the Geology and Palaeontology Department and the Anthropology Department – the artist mixes and matches geographically recognisable sites with hypothetical ones, placing himself at the centre of the work.
Among the highlights is Hide Geographies, a 2017 series of four maps of Palestine, showing its changing, shrinking shape before and after 1948, 1967 and subsequent Israeli incursions. Made of delicate patchwork in rich shades of embroidered fabric, these maps are poignant reflections on the theft of Palestine’s historic territory, at once lamenting its loss and emphasising the precious nature of the remaining land and its cultural heritage, including the art of embroidery.
Another moving series, Sometimes When We Touch, which dates from 1997, consists of a series of agricultural tools – a spade, a pickaxe, a hoe – made from the twigs and leaves of olive trees. Like the rest of the work on show, these pieces succeed in telling a double story, one of colonial dominion over indigenous people, and one of human dominion over nature. Without a permanent physical home, Rabah’s museum is ephemeral and nomadic, existing in a new form in each new iteration. Its Beirut existence is superb and not to be missed.
Featured image: Khalil Rabah, Untitled, All is well, 2017, Mixed media, Variable dimensions. Courtesy of the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut/Hamburg.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Curriculum Vitae #44, page 19.