Ramallah and the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre

“The Palestinian centre is in Ramallah.” This is a sentence you will often hear here. Like on the Israeli side you have – go to Tel Aviv, on the Palestinian side you hear – go to Ramallah! While Arabic artistic structures in Jerusalem start feeling like ‘satellites’ [1], the art and culture scene in Ramallah is continuously growing.

The major place to mention is the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre. Once also the office of the famous poet Mahmoud Darwish, it is an independent structure showing regular exhibitions of local and international artists, making conferences, yoga classes, workshops, film projections, festivals, like the 3 days festival of video art and performance “si:n” and above all raising questions on the Palestinian identity. For example in the solo exhibition “O, Whale Don’t Swallow Our Moon” of the artist Jumana Emil Abboud.

Jumana Emil Abboud made two strong experiences : The one of leaving her homecountry for moving to Canada being a child, and coming back after about 11 years abroad. Through folk-tales of her childhood Jumana tries to understand and reconnect to the environment of her homeland. Songs and stories that accompanied her when she was little speak about the landscape and its inhabitants. Jumana recreates this world in her own pictures, drawings and video, bringing back forgotten and lost parts of the Palestinian identity.

Jumana Emil Abboud, still from “Hide your water from the sun (chapter II)” (2016)

Film still from “Hide Your Water from the Sun (2016)”,  a cinematic documentation where Jumana retraces hunted water sources mentioned in traditional myths. Part of a series of three videos in collaboration with Issa Freij.  Courtesy by the artist.

In a very sensitive manner Jumana raises important questions of, for ex. the role of the female. Her presentation of the female body breaks with the traditional Palestinian paintings in which the woman mainly represents notions of “land” or the concept “Palestine” [2]. Showing the female body disconnected to fixed notions like these, frees ideas about the woman’s identity.


“Bride II (Ein al-Joz), 2016”. Acrylic, gouache and pastel on paper, 28 x 39 cm and “Bride by the spring, 2015”. Courtesy by the artist. [3]

Today’s director of Sakakini Cultural Centre, Yazan Khalil, is artist himself. His work explores landscapes in correlation to our social, political environment. In his subjects he deals among other with questioning the system, for ex. “I, The Artwork (2016)” , a contract demanding the “boycott of an institution it doesn’t want to be exhibited, owned or collected at.” [4]


Exhibition of  “I, The Artwork”  at Al Ma’mal Foundation during the Jerusalem Show 2016. Courtesy by the artist.

Being director of a cultural centre he says, is for him like doing an artwork. Questions he asks in art, he experiences here practically. How much can you play with a system to avoid rigidity in an institution ? How to rethink society and our environment ? How to mingle society, to integrate the divers parts of it in art and culture ? It is a challenge for those who run places like these to find a balance in going onward with showing contemporary art, giving new visual perspectives to the public, while at the same time taking in consideration that not everyone in your surrounding is necessarily assertive with the art world. It is important to take care not to create an elite inside the city, but to create exchange, make everyone feel welcome and keep interested.


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Pictures from the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre. Courtesy by Alice Fiedler C.

Shuruq Harb is one of the many creative heads here that wish to change things. She has a very pluralistic background – studying in the States, Canada and England, living in Egypt and Jordan and now back in Ramallah where she was born. Art and Culture has for her a big importance in opening up: Opening the mind as well as opening  connections between the fragmented parts of the Palestinian Territories and people. She has the desire to enhance a stronger feeling of community and world-understanding.

Discussing in “The Garage” bar/ restaurant in Ramallah with Shuruq Harb. Courtesy by Alice Fiedler C.

A work against isolation, against lethargic, in a political situation that doesn’t seem to get better. One major thing Shuruq claims, is that there is not enough Palestinian writing about art. Writing helps to reflect your and others work, and to grow in your thinking and creation process. This is how she started with a group the internet site “Art Territories” as well as the internet platform “The river has two banks”, an ongoing initiative connecting artists across Jordan and Palestine. A beautiful way to over-go borders.

The Palestinian environment seems to close up more an more. Because of a the borders, a difficult political situation and a radicalisation of society, giving an impression of suffocating. In situations like these you see how important it is to have a place of exchange, of resting and doing things out of the daily routine. A space that opens up and gives air to breathe and to believe in the possibility of the New.

View on Ramallah. Courtesy by Alice Fiedler C.


[1] article Future Imperfect, Alia Rayyan: Recounting the Past, Present and Future”

[4] artist page of Yazan Khalil, “I, The Artwork, 2016”


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