Process of Assimilation, 1967–, inkjet printing on newsprint, perfect bound book, 5 x 6.75 inches closed; enlargement of 1960’s photograph, 5 x 7 inches.
The only object my father was able to bring to the United States after his family left Palestine in 1967 was an Arabic-English dictionary. It is not only a remnant of his displacement, but it is representative of a necessity to learn another language, a foreign language, and one that is to become a refugee’s or “displaced person’s” new dialect. My father marked over 1,600 words in this dictionary. These words signify what a person should know when learning English in the late 1960s to early 1970s. These are the words my father found important, the only ones worth knowing in this “pocket” dictionary.
I recreated the dictionary representing my father’s experience during this time of immigration and “assimilation.” I stripped away everything that my father did not mark, everything that was not worth knowing. The dictionary exists in the state after the process of learning English, complete with traces of that process including simple marks, handwritten notes, and the inscription of the Americanized name given to my father by teachers and schoolmates. The photograph is a reference to the unreachable past, his place of origin, the place from which he departed, the reason it was necessary to learn English. A photo of a home to which he cannot return and a book representing the language of his new home, the past and the present recreated to exist simultaneously, as it often does in the reality of a Palestinian.
Installed in the PRO NEO POST exhibition at Autumn Space Gallery, April 2012.
February 28, 2012
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“My father’s image appeared before my eyes, and I could hear his voice saying ‘When will we return home?’ My whole world came together. I was silent. I looked out at the greenery and mountains of Palestine. I could see Tel Aviv below. I wept out of affection and longing, and said softly, ‘Father, we shall return…’” —Leila Khaled
Since 2004, I have been collecting postcards from all around the world; my collection has one condition: the postcards must be sent to me from friends and family while they are visiting a particular destination. My goal, which will last a lifetime and never be fulfilled, is to receive a postcard from every country in the world and every state in the U.S.
Postcards allow us to live vicariously the visits of friends and family in other cities and countries. When we receive postcards we are able to create and recall memories by reading the message handwritten to us on the back detailing unique or typical excursions and/or containing generic sayings of “Wish you were here.” Before my father came to the United States from Palestine in 1967, he purchased postcards of the occupied homeland he was leaving because he was able to take nothing with him. To look at these postcards is to invoke memories not of tourism, but of struggle, longing, and the possible permanence of losing one’s home, simply through the image. My collection is comprised of places around the world that one can visit as a tourist or possibly inhabit, while my father’s collection is of a home to which he cannot return; the former is voluntary displacement while the latter is forced.
I have displayed my postcard collection chronologically in a single line with the body text transcribed into a continuous narrative below. At various intervals, I have placed my father’s Palestine postcards up high, disrupting the flow and forcing the viewer to look up. These postcards are in archival sleeves, showing past and preservation, remnants of loss and struggle. Included are three postcards that were sent to my father from relatives and a friend who were able to remain in Palestine after 1967.
Through image, text, and narrative, Far from Home reflects on ideas of (un)attainable geography and forced or voluntary displacement; the image of Palestine is always lingering, disrupting our travel in life as a constant reminder of an unreachable home.