38 Days of Re-Collection on the Bookcover. Pluto Press. Winner of the Palestine Book Awards
Displacement as metonym (in the sense of actual movement from place to place) and as metaphor (in the sense of comparable displacements) forms a binding thread that runs through On the Arab-Jew, Palestine, and Other Displacements. For this reason, I found Steve Sabella’s “38 Days of Re- Collection” (2014) to suggestively convey the thrust of this book, and selected it for the cover. The basic material of Sabella’s Re-Collection” series -- B & W photo emulsion spread on swashes of color paint scraped from the interior walls of houses in Jerusalem’s Old City -- strangely parallels this book project itself, also composed of fragments gathered from several decades of work and now “housed” in this collection. The stand-alone materiality of the piece, literally extracted from a wall, conveys a layered history through palpable layers of paint. The scraped paint with its several strata of color, forms a literal palimpsest, testifying as it were to the various hands that had painted each one. The turquoise in particular evokes the greenish shades of the wall paint color commonly preferred by indigenous communities of the region (whether Muslims, Christians, or Jews) to protect against the evil spirits. Scraping thus becomes both an act of excavation of the buried substrata of forgotten lives, as well as a means to visualize again intermingled lives.
At the same time, the beige and the brown, in conjunction with the jagged shape of the fragment, generate a strong impression of a map. As objects of visual representation, maps are premised on some correspondence to the “real” of land and sea and so forth. Yet the shape of the “map,” in this instance, portrays a country nowhere to be found. Here the map becomes a signifier without a referent, a simulacrum of simulacra, a token of powerlessness and the arbitrary nature of maps. In a kind of premonition about the overpowering force of maps, the scraped fragment evokes both roots and routes. The partially discernable colors of the fragment re-present the adorned walls that wrapped generations of the living in a modicum of continuing at-home-ness. Sabella’s artwork in this sense inhabits at once the present (the actual paint-piece) and the past (the inter-generational layers of paint.) Similarly, the superimposition of the image of the kitchen -- the window and hanging pots and pans and even a decorative cat figure -- on the scraped paint suggests quotidian domesticity. The kitchen becomes the privileged site of food preparation both as digestive necessity and culinary tradition, while also redolent of sensuous delights and communal rituals. But in contrast to the materiality of the scraped paint, the black and white kitchen has the immateriality of a superimposed image, thus forming a simultaneous presence- absence that inscribes the quotidian life haunted by a ghostly past.