New York-based Palestinian artist Shadi Habib Allah’s latest exhibition, titled “Evacuated Containers”, is inspired by a personal experience. But by presenting a deconstruction of the entire experience, the artist invites viewers to construct new narratives based on their own perceptions of the scene and nature of the event.
Habib Allah is from occupied Jerusalem, and the incident which triggered his latest work occurred in 2009, when he was returning to New York after a visit to his hometown. “During my vacation I had been working on a sculpture of a leg. When the security officer at Ben Guiron airport in Tel Aviv spotted this piece in my baggage, she questioned me about it. Not satisfied with my answers, she took me to her superiors for further interrogation. I knew that the entire process was a game of intimidation and power play. So I also started playing with them, giving them my philosophical and humorous take on the functions of a leg and the meaning of that sculpture. But unknown to me, in another room, the officers destroyed the artwork. They showed me the pieces, warning me not to travel with such things, and all I returned home with was the piece of cloth in which the sculpture had been wrapped,” the artist recalls.
It was an emotional experience for Habib Allah to have his artwork stripped of its identity, and destroyed without his knowledge, based on the decision of an authority whom he could not question. “I could have recreated the sculpture, and to me the object itself did not mean anything. I needed to resolve my feelings by understanding the space where my artwork was destroyed and where it might still exist, albeit in pieces. That unknown space lay behind a curtain in the room where I was interrogated,” he says.