Palestinian artist Hazem Harb’s exhibition at Salsali Private Museum in Dubai explored landscapes and dichotomies

How to create using only oppositions? And how to employ dichotomies to analyse certain modern phenomena that are already paradoxical, themselves full of dichotomies? These and further questions were examined in Palestinian artist Hazem Harb’s solo exhibition, The Invisible Landscape and Concrete Futures, at Salsali Private Museum in Dubai from March until June. A collaboration with Athr Gallery in Jeddah, the exhibition was curated by Lara Khaldi.

When thinking of landscapes, we normally imagine peaceful, bucolic scenes that invite the observer to bask in the beauty of nature. In his renderings, however, Harb challenges traditional modes of representation. In the collage series Archaeology of the Occupation, the artist layers images of bulky concrete blocks over the original landscape, thus creating a strong visual and emotional dichotomy between the warring natural and manmade elements. In this way, the viewer experiences a thought-provoking parallel between vision and physical experience: the strikingly unnatural concrete forms obscure the original photos of picturesque coastlines, just as a physical block obstructs the continuation of the discovery of the land when encountered during a walk. These imposed boundaries are unnatural in every way, alien to the landscape in their material, formal and aesthetic qualities.

In the series TAG, we again find the inspiring departure point of photographs arranged as a collage and doctored with alien geometric elements. Influenced by the prevalence of “tagging,” the practice of leaving spray-painted signatures on walls and buildings, Harb chose to take old photographs and disfigure them with abstract geometric designs – floating squares or straightedged blocks of colour.

Untitled #15,204 x 120 cm,Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryte 325g on 3mm Dibond, Ed.1-3, 2015

Untitled #15,204 x 120 cm,Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryte 325g on 3mm Dibond, Ed.1-3, 2015

The vintage black-and-white photographs, capturing figures as well as landscapes, created another dichotomy in conjunction with the contemporary forms that interrupt their continuity, contrasting temporal perspectives in a single frame. The overlapping and covering elements – pure, geometric shapes – connected the works from the TAG series both to the works in Archaeology of the Occupation, as well as to earlier bodies of Harb’s work, including his 2014 Al Baseera series, acrylic paintings on multiple canvases, in which he was investigating the essential aesthetic qualities of form and colour, departing from the re-interpretation of traditional Islamic geometric patterns.

In addition to these series, a large installation was also on view. This is not a Museum was a poetic reflection on the conversion of a family house in Jerusalem into a museum. The installation’s form was based on the original floor plan of the building. Components including a video, concrete blocks and a pillow were arranged to recreate its shape. Again, intriguing oppositions were created on a material level – between soft and hard, fragile and resistant – but also on the level of perception, between the spatial, three-dimensional elements and the timebased video work. The installation investigated the metaphor of sleeping and awakening in connection with the historical and architectural perspectives of the building.

A fascinating exhibition, The Invisible Landscape and Concrete Futures examined sociocultural and political questions related to history and the present lived experience in a thought-provoking and engaging display.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Playtime Issue #31, on page 22