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The Cemetery of Things

Miniatures, monuments, and secrets: notes on the work of artist Wafa Hourani / By Lara Khaldi



The Secret


In Wafa Hourani’s new performance, “The Cemetary of Things”, the artist invites the audience to plant their own secrets in the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center garden. It appears that Hourani’s interest in Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca was conjured when he came upon a poem where the poet predicts his own death and disappearance[1].  The young poet was assassinated during the Spanish Civil war and his body was never found. This point of departure, and this performative work echoes with many stories here in Palestine, and elsewhere as many families of martyrs are still awaiting their beloved’s corpse to be returned from the Israeli military. Many Syrian refugees’ bodies are lost in the sea never to be found. Hourani reads the poem in a contemporary context of disappearances and secrets. Perhaps this burying of secrets is a reminder of one’s own fatality, which compels one to realize that death is inevitable, and if it is coming, then the present should be an irreversible time for action.


This burying of secrets - or perhaps it is best named a ‘planting of secrets’ - comes at a time of an institutional turn in Palestine. One where museums and archives are being formed, and where objects are used to demonstrate the history of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Museums institutionalize radical revolutionary violence as the irredeemably dead past, by displaying the material corpse where it becomes instead evidence of the impossibility of resurgence[2]. Museums in Palestine are symptomatic of a desire for the death of the politics of emancipation. They are projects of an emergent nation-state, where the state has no foreseeable future. What this performative work suggests is an alternate museum experience, perhaps one could call it an anti-museum. One which will keep secrets hidden away in the earth, with the lurking potential to resurrect in the future. Buried secrets make the very idea of a future attainable.


[1] “Then I realised I had been murdered/They looked for me in cafes, cemeteries and churches .... but they did not find me/They never found me?/No. They never found me” From "The Fable And Round of the Three Friends", Poet in New York (1939), Garcia Lorca

[2] Groys, Boris. "On Art Activism." E-flux Journal # 56. E-flux, June 2014. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.


Wafa Hourani - Palestinian Artist - Science Fiction - Performance


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