THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY
On display will be a collection of Harb’s works spanning several series created between 2015 and 2019, starting with the artist’s introduction of collage to his practice in 2015. Using a researchdriven approach to each element of his work, Harb takes his inspiration from multiple sources that span from the wisdom of Salvador Dali to the words of the prolific Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. The artist is an avid reader who investigates architecture as a mode of imperialism and delves deep into the archeology, folklore, and history of his native culture. His collages transcend aesthetic brilliance, each fragment representing a piece of a puzzle. A rectangle of cold grey plexiglass overlaid upon a photograph of Jerusalem’s soft stone walls might, for example, represent the imposition of concrete Bauhaus structures upon the visual landscape. In this painstaking manner, Harb creates his collages by slicing and layering archival photographs, building upon them with his own drawings and found materials, including maps and coins.
The pieces selected for this exhibition trace Harb’s aesthetic evolution over the last four years, yet the topic of the artist’s exploration remains constant. He keenly uses his position as an artist to reaffirm history, making sense of the intricacies of personal and collective memory and the sense of longing that invariably stems from displacement.
Physical photographs might be forgotten, destroyed or disregarded, and antiquities may face erasure, in line with political changes, hegemony, and shifting borders; yet Harb’s collages pull them together, underscoring their importance and establishing their significance in the present. This artist’s practice questions our very modes of recording and understanding history, divulging the ways in which it can be manipulated. In doing so, he opens up a wider question, exploring how our memories are formed and how politics and power help shape these memories.
Some of the works on display investigate the conflicting incarnations of Jerusalem, a place that holds much significance and varied meanings across faiths, races, geographies and generations. In Bauhaus as Imperialism, series #2, 2019, there is beauty in difference, as looming forms like security barriers and glimpses of Brutalist architecture obscure views of the Dome of The Rock, which could reflect the disruptive landscape of today. Stern concrete and harsh geometrical lines shoot out from Jerusalem’s passive forms. The cutting edges and imposing appearance do, on first glance, feel like they have little to do with preconceived notions of the Holy City, but the layers of black and white photographs do: in fact they reveal the first post office built during the British Mandate and inaugurated in 1938. And in Harb’s Occupation Monuments series from 2016, jolting pieces are sliced from the composition begging the question, what is missing from the picture? What was there before, and is now gone?
“As an artist I made a conscious decision that my work must have meaning,” says Harb. “I have a responsibility to preserve the visual culture of my country as it reaches the point of exclusion. Beyond this I intend that my work should have universal relevance, the topic of home and its collective and individual significance is never more relevant than today in our time of globalization, new technologies and unpredictable political climate.”