AMMAN – As the doors of autumn opened, the Image Festival Amman flourished again with its 9th edition in September under the theme of Filastine. Organised by Darat Al Tasweer since 2011, the photography festival gathers photographers and visual creatives from all over the world to share their works with the local community in Jordan. The year 2021 marked new beginnings and post-pandemic imaginations for the art society worldwide, and we witnessed revolutionary incidents that shifted every Arab household, Palestine in particular. The festival featured photographers from all over the globe, each telling the story of their encounter with Palestine through their own lens.

This edition consisted of 36 exhibitions spread across 17 venues and hosted multiple talks including ones with speakers like Palestinian photographers Tarek Bakri and Sakir Khader. The festival also opened its doors for audiences to attend portfolio viewing sessions with a few of the invited photographers taking part in the 9th edition, allowing room for open discussions and sharing experiences.

During the month-long festival, Amman’s art scene was blossoming with events across the seven hills. Below we are listing only a few of the projects that took part in Filastine:

Raed Asfour, Mohammed Harb and Najla Abdellatif at Manara Arts & Culture:

From the opening reception of Raed Asfour’s Enigmatic Allure

This year’s Image Festival was a spectacular collaboration setup between Darat El Tasweer and Jordanian art spaces spread out across Amman. Manara Arts & Culture located in the heart of Jabal Al Lweibdeh hosted Enigmatic Allure, an exhibition by artist Raed Asfour which he describes as a translation of his emotions from his last trip to Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. Another project exhibited at the same location was Biography of Gaza by Mohamed Harb which left quite a mark on viewers. The project’s immense scale and its collage of monochromatic scenes of Gaza formulated a symbol indicating the urge to condemn the constant attacks the city experienced over so many years. Lastly, Najla Abdellatif shared some more intimate shots of Palestinians roaming around their villages while introducing their stories in little street corners and curbs to her audience.

Don’t Shoot by Isidro López-Aparicio at The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts:

From the opening of Don’t Shoot by Isidro López-Aparicio at The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts

Don’t Shoot by Spanish artist Isidro López-Aparicio showcases the artist’s own experience in the West Bank, telling his story of passing through harsh checkpoints and hours of interrogation. The pictures in his project are taken near the Apartheid Wall, with López-Aparicio suspended upsidedown from a tree. He is adorned with a simple white shirt and a statement written out in English, Arabic, Spanish, and Hebrew: “Don’t Shoot”. While the artwork was censored in occupied Palestine, Don’t Shoot highlights the constant limitations of mobility faced by Palestinians commuting across the country every day. López-Aparicio depicts the difficulty in moving about freely through the hours he dedicated to get the perfect shot; allowing his viewer to vividly see the experience in the hardship he went through and mirroring a common element of the Palestinian struggle: territorial obstacles.

Villages in the Landscapes of Palestine at Fann Wa Chai:

Images from Villages in the Landscapes of Palestine at Fann Wa Chai

Not only was the Image Festival an open space to visualize Palestine, but also an educational pivot that delves into Palestinian culture, history, and heritage. At Fann Wa Chai, visitors were welcomed with some winds of the past. The space featured select archival images from the École Biblique; a French institution with a focus on archeology and biblical interpretations. In this unique selection, visitors are embraced with a wide range of archival images from various parts of Palestinian villages. The exhibition emphasizes Palestine’s natural surroundings and architecture from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. From the ancient Jaffa Port that was once the Mediterranean’s central fishing harbor, all the way to Jerusalem’s Bab El Amoud market; the photos are a free gateway for narrating the stories of different Palestinian cities to the youth.

From Eman Haram’s Memory of Fragrant Oranges at MMAG Foundation

Rehaf Batniji and Zainab Khalifeh at Dar Al Anda:

Motaz Alaaraj at Bayt Yaish

This showcase depicted Palestine both inside and outside its borders, highlighting Palestinian livelihood through fishing. At Dar Al Anda, Gaza’s Fish by Gaza-based photographer Rehaf Batniji raises the concerning question; “Will Gaza’s fish go extinct?”. In her project, she displays photographs of fishermen next to one of their catches of the day, and in a humorous manner, there is some physical resemblance between each pair of characters. Despite the besieged life and isolation of being on lockdown, there seems to be a wide range of fish that continues to breed and move about freely in the water.

Hassan Bedawi from Safed, a part of Zeinab Khalifeh’s The Sea Is Mine

With the road leading to the north of the Levant, Lebanese creative Zeinab Khalifeh takes a set of images from her hometown, Saida. This Sea is Mine is a compilation featuring a group of fishermen living in Saida, who originally come from different coastal areas in Palestine. Khalifeh found inspiration in this exhibition from her own background as a child.

I was born and raised in a coastal area directly next to Saida. The sea is part of my daily life encounter and part of my way to express my feelings. The story of the Palestinian fishermen all started with a random discussion with one of the Palestinian fishermen. – Zeinab Khalifeh

Her work revolves around close collaboration with the fishermen; which makes each picture shine its own light. One of the fishermen she encounters tells her his story of how he was exiled from Palestine and since then, was living in Saida. She recalls his wishes to go back to Haifa and continue the fishing legacy in his family.

I was really interested in how his family was able to preserve their identity through their relationships with the sea, on a daily basis with their daily encounters and work. – Zeinab Khalifeh

Collective exhibition at Darkroom Amman:

From Ali Jad Allah’s exhibition at Darkroom Amman

Darkroom Amman opened its doors for a one-of-a-kind, diverse exhibition. Ali Jad Allah is a Palestinian photographer specialised in humanitarian media coverage and has worked with several worldwide media outlets as well as local ones in Palestine. Ali has previously reported three wars in Gaza and through his series titled The People’s Revolution, Return Marches, and Breaking The Siege we see his images right as he lives through them. With his subjects being in the middle of stone-throwing, protesting, and speaking up, Ali puts resistance into action through his images – making viewers almost envision how it would look once the scene moves. Exhibited alongside Ali at Darkroom Amman were fellow photographers Shareef Sarhan, Eleonora Sabet, and Samar Abu Elouf.

Hussam Manasrah and Abdulrhaman Zaqqout at Abdulhameed Shoman Foundation:

From Abdelhamid Shoman Foundation exhibition

Palestinian storytelling is never complete without a strong connection to our preceding generations. In his latest exhibition, Hussam Manasrah challenges the theme of memory in a group of sepia-toned portraits of elderly Palestinians from multiple cities in the country. He describes the narration of these stories and recalling memories of the homeland as one of the most difficult elements of the Palestinian identity.

The scars marked by the Palestinian struggle for solidarity comes in many visual parables. One of these metaphors is fire. With Wretched Isolation, Gaza-based photographer Abdulrahman Zaqqout represents the atrocities faced by the people of Gaza under siege, recording each fire caused by an airstrike through a single shot. Zaqqout expresses this collective pain through scenes of fire across several areas in Gaza, taken from different angles. He maintains the idea of togetherness by combining these photographs into one collection, reminding Gazans that the city will always stand tall, no matter how many times it is wounded.

The 9th edition of Image Festival Amman set in September 2021 under the name Filastine allowed a wider audience to see Palestine beyond its occupation and learn about it outside of the context of word of mouth. It changes Palestine from a distant image seen only through TV news stations to a warm, personal one, serving as a reminder to always be proud of one’s ancestry, heritage, and cause. Filastine ignited conversations between exhibition viewers over culture and patriotism, leaving them in a state of both nostalgia and anticipation.

Read more from Zina Qabbani.
All images courtesy of Image Festival Amman and Artists.