John Halaka – Landscapes of Desire, 2009
My drawings from the series Landscapes of Desire are inspired by the ruins of Palestinian villages and homes that were destroyed by Israel during and after the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The images enable me to reflect on the unrelenting effort to annihilate a Palestinian culture that refuses to disappear and an indigenous people that refuse to go away. Drawings of the ruins of stone homes from destroyed Palestinian villages such as Kafr Bir’im, Lifta, Al-Bassa, A’mka and Kuikat, are a declaration that in the face of looming cultural annihilation, the persistence of memory is a crucial act of political resistance and cultural survival.
The images are rendered with ink and rubber stamped words. The repeated stamping of the words defines the forms, textures and tones of the landscapes, but most importantly, the repeated words employed to construct the drawings become a visual mantra, compelling us to “remember”, “resist”, “return”, “rebuild” and prepare to “forgive”.
I view forgiveness as one of the most challenging, yet the most critical final stage of a successful non-violent resistance campaign waged by the Palestinians against their occupiers. Although the struggle is far from over; to maintain the moral high ground while cultivating a sustainable future of co-existence, the Palestinians must prepare to forgive the Israelis while encouraging them to acknowledge their violations and to reflect deeply on their responsibilities. History teaches all who have suffered and or continue to suffer under the tyranny of an oppressor, that without cultivating an emotional state of forgiveness the victims risk becoming the monster they wish to destroy.
Inspired by lessons of forgiveness preached by Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, I invite the viewer to reflect on the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom I am paraphrasing here: Without forgiveness, there can be no tomorrow.
– John Halaka
John Halaka is an activist artist whose creative work serves as a vehicle for meditation on personal, cultural and political concerns. He creates images that raise questions, for himself as well as for the viewer, about some of the pressing issues of our time. His experiences as an artist of Palestinian descent shape his pictorial investigations of cycles of repression and displacement as well as the personal and political relationship between desire, denial and instability. His recent work in both painting and documentary filmmaking investigates issues of identity construction from personal, familial and political perspectives. He is a Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of San Diego, where he has taught since 1991. He received his MFA in Visual Arts from the University of Houston in 1983 and his B.A. in Fine Arts from the City University of New York, Brooklyn College campus.
Halaka has exhibited his work in solo and group exhibitions both locally and nationally. His work was included in the exhibit Made In Palestine, organized by the Station Museum, in Houston Texas, as well as, IN-VISIBLE, the inaugural exhibition at the Arab American National Museum in Detroit, Michigan. His recent documentary film credits include The Presence of Absence in the Ruins of Kafr Bir’im (60 minutes, released November 2007, SittingCrow Productions) and Wounds of the Heart: An Artist and her Nations (53 minutes. April 2009. SittingCrow Productions). A selection of Halaka’s paintings and drawings can be viewed on his web site www.johnhalaka.com. Information about his film projects can be found on his other web site www.sittingcrowproductions.com.