Past Disquiet. Narratives and Ghosts from the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, 1978 is a documentary and archival exhibition centred on the research conducted on and around the story of the International Art Exhibition for Palestine, which opened in the spring of 1978 in Beirut, Lebanon at the Beirut Arab University. Organised by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), it was comprised of around 200 donated works from nearly 30 countries. The exhibition was intended as the seed collection for a museum in exile, taking the form of an itinerant exhibition that was meant to tour worldwide until it could be repatriated to Palestine. During the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982, the building where the works were stored, together with the exhibitions archival and documentary traces, was destroyed by the Israeli military.
The history of contemporary art cannot be written exclusively through the analysis of artworks. One key historiographic discipline investigates and narrates how artworks have been taken into the sphere of public space as the space of reception. The history of exhibitions allows us to understand the role that todays artistic production gives art within the broader context of political, media, economic and cultural conditions, or, in other words, how the values that art bestows on life are created and shared.
Aside from the more famous exhibitions held at big museums in the major cities in the West, the second half of the twentieth century also saw a flourishing of exhibitions of great significance and relevance outside the framework of museums and institutions. In many cases, the desire to create new forms of institutionality led to these initiatives falling into obscurity or to their physical or mnemonic destruction. This is an attempt to initiate a reading of another history of art, one that gathers up the yearnings and hopes of many people, from the perspective of a recent past that should not continue to be left out of the historical narratives of art.
Past Disquiet proposes a speculative reconstitution of the universe of politically engaged artistic and museographic practices in the milieu of the international anti-imperialist solidarity movement of the 1970s, based on research about and around the story of the International Art Exhibition for Palestine (Beirut, 1978). This is an exhibition of stories culled from memories, yellowed newspaper clippings, magazines and publications, most of which are no longer in circulation, pamphlets from revolutions that have lost their fervour, and photographs stored in boxes that had not been opened in decades. Past Disquiet begins with Palestine in Beirut and travels the world, to Paris, Rome, Rabat, Baghdad, Tokyo, Venice, Santiago de Chile, Cape Town, back and forth, tracking a thousand and one stories of artists and militants; in other words, visionaries and dreamers who imagined museums that incarnated the causes for which they were fighting. Museums without walls, in exile, or in solidarity with a cause, comprised of donations from artists, presented in the form of itinerant exhibitions, and were destined to travel the world until the historic change for which they were fighting would become real. The International Art Exhibition for Palestine, like the International Resistance Museum for Salvador Allende and the Artists of the World Against Apartheid, began with artists who believe that art is at the heart of everyday life, in streets, cities, schools and homes, at the herald of political change, and with militants who believe that political change is impossible to imagine without artists.
The size and scope of the 1978 International Art Exhibition for Palestine was unprecedented in the region. The reconstructed story of the Exhibition has surfaced an intricate network and shared history of politically engaged artists and initiatives and revealed a scarcely documented history of grassroots artists collectives in cities like Paris, Rome and Tokyo, artists unions in Damascus, Baghdad and Casablanca, seminal editions of biennials in Venice, Baghdad and Rabat and similar museums in exile in Santiago de Chile and Cape Town.
Conceived to exhibit, mediate and incarnate the multiple themes and questions that have guided this research, Past Disquiet contains montaged video using archival material and film as well as contemporary interviews and writing, in addition to reproductions of significant documents. The exhibition revisits artistic practice entrenched in the political engagement of the international anti-imperialist solidarity movement of the 1970s. In addition, it brings together speculative histories of a turbulent recent past, from recorded testimonies and private archives, while engaging the problematics of oral history, trappings of memory and writing history in the absence of cogent archives. It also maps the constellations of artists and groups linked by political affiliations and solidarities beginning in Palestine and expanding to the rest of the world. It also presents similar museographic initiatives, such as the International Resistance Museum for Salvador Allende, and Artists Against Apartheid, alongside other intersecting exhibitions like the First Arab Biennial in Baghdad (1974) and the 1976 Venice Biennale, among others.
The exhibition situates itself in relation to archival practices and a documenting of art history. In particular, it asks how to reconstruct the history of an exhibition without official archives, thus proposing a speculative history as an alternative way of narrating a story, in a time when reconstructing historical exhibitions is gaining visibility.
Past Disquiet, the outcome of research conducted by Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti for over four years, was made possible through the generosity of nearly one hundred individuals who entrusted their recollections, insights, personal anecdotes and time, as well as accepted to share their private archives publicly. The exhibition attempts to activate critical revisions of the prevailing geo-cultural paradigms that inhibit a thoroughly worldly mindset in art historical writing.
The exhibition will be on view at the Museu dArt Contemporani de Barcelona
through 1 June 2015.