The Mosaic Rooms opens 'Stateless Heritage' by artist and architect collective DAAR
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The Mosaic Rooms opens 'Stateless Heritage' by artist and architect collective DAAR
Refugee Heritage by DAAR — Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti — Photographic Dossier by Luca Capuano. Image courtesy The Mosaic Rooms (2021). Photography by Andy Stagg.

LONDON.- Stateless Heritage sets out to challenge the mainstream narratives of refugee experience, of humanitarian crises, victim-hood and suffering. In their first UK solo exhibition artist and architect collective DAAR (Decolonize Architecture Art Research)- Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti - refuse the dominant Western notion of heritage and propose to reorient heritage towards nonhegemonic forms of collective memory.

This exhibition presents DAAR’s proposal to nominate a refugee camp in Palestine as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By misusing and redirecting UNESCO World Heritage guidelines and criteria, DAAR ask how architecture can be mobilised as an agent for political transformation.

Dheisheh refugee camp is in Palestine, near Bethlehem, and is one of the world’s oldest refugee camps. The camp traces its history back to 1949, near the start of the Nakba, when Palestinians started to be displaced by the newly established state of Israel. A large light box installation of photographs is placed in the gallery to evoke the geography of the camp, giving visitors an insight into its urban and social fabric. DAAR commissioned photographer Luca Capuano, who had previously documented Italy’s World Heritage Sites for UNESCO, to take these images. The aim was to document Dheisheh as a living monument of ‘permanent temporariness’.

Elsewhere a series of photo-books documenting the 44 villages of origin of Dheisheh’s residents are placed on plinths of varying heights, forming a kind of landscape or ruin. Visitors will make a 'journey of return' which is impossible for the camp’s refugees because Israeli authorities refuse to permit Palestinian refugees the right of return, despite its internationally recognition.

DAAR’s nomination to register the camp as a World Heritage Site (which premiered at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale) is intended as a provocation, to expose how the definition of heritage is not universal as claimed, but subject to nation state control and has colonial foundations. Visitors can consult the dossier of evidence for the nomination. By nominating a refugee camp, a territory outside the nation-state, DAAR open up different forms of heritage making.

The exhibition ends in a social gathering space, in the spirit of the refugee camp’s culture, where people can socialise, read, relax and organise. Events in the gallery and online will explore themes including refugee heritage, subjugated heritage, statelessness and resistance to colonialism, through workshops, discussions, music, performance and film. Omar Hmidat will host The Living Room (Al-Madafeh), a weekly gathering of people from Dheisheh and London, in the same informal and spontaneous manner he gathered people in living rooms in Dheisheh camp, before moving to London last year. In a collaboration with English Pen, Gazan poet Nayrouz Qarmout will be in residence in November writing in response to the exhibition. Addressing the UK government’s hostility towards refugees, Migrants in Culture will run workshops to design a campaign against the proposed New Plan for Immigration.

This exhibition is part of a wider movement to use heritage to resist colonialism and occupation which continues in Palestine, and to expose colonial and imperial legacies more widely. Stateless Heritage raises issues of migrant justice at a time when the right to claim asylum is under renewed threat in the UK and internationally.

DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Research) is an architectural collective that combines conceptual speculations and pragmatic spatial interventions, discourse and collective learning. The artistic research of Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti is situated between politics, architecture, art and pedagogy. In their practice art exhibitions are both sites of display and sites of action that spill over into other contexts: built architectural structures, the shaping of critical learning environments, interventions that challenge dominant collective narratives, the production of new political imaginations, the formation of civic spaces and the re-definition of concepts.

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