Return of the Soul
The Return of the Soul is an installation of 3200 wax figures, hand made by the youth in the Palestinian Camps in Lebanon suspended and presented a spectacular visual impression of a mass exodus. The wax figures accompany with 800 identities representing the storage of the memory of the first generation about homeland, uprooting, ethnic cleansing and presenting the dream of return, besides voices scattered with deep emotions enriched continuously by the series of Nakba since 1948.
The Scottish artist Jane Frere led an artistic work jointly with Arab Resource Centre – AL Jana and The Cultural Cooperative Association for Youth in Theatre and Cinema – SHAMS to mark and commemorate the sixty years of al Nakba through an artistic exhibition, whereas all its components prepared by Palestinians in the camps.
The installation took place at Dawar Al Shams Cultural Space from September 14 till October 3,2005 under the patronage of Al Safir newspaper, and it consisted of:
- multiple wax figure installation
- Sound sculpture
The return of the soul aimed to convey a message through the medium of culture to commemorate the 60th anniversary of AL-Nakba and to mark the consequences that continue to affect the lives of the Palestinians in the exile.
The project aimed also to create an awareness of the injustice of displacement and uprooting through artistic expression in both spiritual and humanitarian approach.
Also, the exhibition was held in coordination with the International Solidarity week commemorating the 26th year of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre and was attended by all the international delegations.
The preparation for the exhibition took place over two phases:
1- Preparing the wax figures:
A series of workshop were held in the camps and in the Sunflower (Dawar EL SHAMS). The training was conducted by the artist Jane Frere to transfer the technique of making the wax figures, these workshops were joined by two Bahraini artists in collaboration of Al Riwaq Gallery in Bahrain.
The result of these workshops: 138 persons acquired the skill of making wax figures and of collecting testimonies. Most of all they learned about the incidents and the actuality of Nakba as they were involved in collecting testimonies and making figures.
The workshops took place from February 4 till March 9. The process of producing wax figures continued till the first week of May. The result was 3200 wax figure (from half centimeter till 32 centimeters in length) representing all the sections of the Palestinian people during their flee in 1948.
In order to give the figures, the credibility and to inject a true a team of young Palestinians from the camps were involved in recording written and oral testimonies to create a personal account of those elapsed days before and during 1984. Besides this effort, testimonies were videotaped by the artist Jane Frere jointly with the researchers from the camps all around Lebanon. As Jane was totally immersed in the rhythms of other people’s lives, sharing with them fragments of their daily purgatory, she declared: I soon came to realize that I was not just gathering stories and anecdotes, but capturing the tears of raw emotion, feelings often deeply suppressed, perhaps out of an instinct for self-preservation.
AL-JANA coordinated the training and field collection of testimonies in the refugee camps.
These precious testimonies were collected after a short training was conducted by participants in five workshops. They handled a questionnaire of twelve short questions answered in writing by the interviewee who can write else by their grandchildren. The result was 800 testimonies, that inspired the “identity” for every wax figure. They were scanned and shown in parallel to the exhibition through a video projection. A picture of the old interviewee accompanied most testimonies. Some stories of the first generation were accounted for via second and third generations who evolved the memory by continuous nostalgic telling.
To achieve the exhibition, the executive team managed the following steps:
The wax figures were exhibited at AlHosh gallery during May then they were hosted at the prestigious Edinburgh festival in August 2008.
These figures were shipped back to Amman at the end of August.
Since the exhibition was supposed to take place in the second week of September in Lebanon, it was arranged to have the figures back to Lebanon in the last week of August. A serious cargo problem jeopardized the exhibition but due to the appreciated efforts of the UNRWA in Amman, the figures, finally, arrived to Beirut in the second week of September.
The artist Jane Frere led the process of installation with a team that put extra efforts that allowed us to meet the deadline
The exhibition was made up of three components:
1- Wax figures: large sculptural instillation comprising of thousands of handmade figures (size ranging between 1\2 cm and 32cms) suspended from the ceiling and presenting spectacular visual impression of a mass exodus.
2- Ever lasting impressions: These were sound records; voices related to refugees from the first generation presenting their memories and briefing their stories of the uprooting and their memories in their countries and their hope in obtaining their right to return. They played on big screens in the background of the instillation in a back chamber.
3- Testimonies: hand written testimonies collected from the witnesses of the first generation who experienced the uprooting (massacres rape, killing, etc.); some were collected from the second generation whose memories were the transfer of the first generation. In order to reflect the real size of the catastrophe, real hand written details were collected from the first and second generation which shed light on the whole journey of suffering during the uprooting era. A short questionnaire was designed to highlight a side of the Palestinian life before Nakba and to visualize the circumstances that lead to fleeing their homes
Under the patronage of the Lebanese Minister of Information Mr.Tarek
Metrey, the opening was on the 14th of September, the remarkable date of the 26 anniversary of Sabra and Shatila Massacre.
Around 1000 persons attended the opening. There were representation of various official figures such as the Minister of information, British Ambassador and Canadian officials. In addition, Welfare representatives Mr. Koutab and Miss. Leyla Zekharaya attended the opening along with other members of Welfare association. There was big participation of the representatives of local NGOs, in addition to youth and students.
Around 1000 persons from the camps visited the exhibition; among them were the figure makers, collectors of the testimonies, and elders whose testimonies contributed in giving life to the wax figures. In addition, people from various areas of Lebanon visited the exhibition from September 14th until August 2nd.
There was active participation of interested Lebanese and Palestinian artists. Also, a foreign delegation which was in Lebanon for the commemoration Sabra and Shatila Massacres visited the exhibition.
In addition, Iraqi refugees visited the exhibition and expressed their solidarity as they related to the experience of the Palestinians. The total recorded number of visitors was around 5000 persons.
Various activities were carried during the exhibition which targeted children aged 6 to 14. The children from UNRWA schools and local NGOs participated in the activities and recorded their feelings through a dramatic act with the assistance of Lebanese actress Aida Sabra and Palestinian actor Fadi Dabaja. They aimed at:
- Discussing and clarifying the concept of the exhibition
- Identifying the symbolism of the figures
- Presenting their memory about the uprooting.
- Introducing body movement as a method of expression
- Maintaining a relationship between the child and one figure as a spiritual relation.
- Allowing the children to express Expressing their feelings through drawing.
- Allowing exchange of experience between the Palestinian and Iraqi children who attended the exhibition
Another group of children from Jana art club visited the exhibition and later worked on an animation film that animated real objects that first generation Palestinian refugee elders brought along with them from Palestine. Thus the children gave voice to a lantern, comb, bad, keys etc… telling their own imagined experience of eviction from home and exile.
In a later art workshop in 2008, with Art Educator Amy Trabka children I Jana Art Club conducted interviews about the tragic events of 1948 with elders in their own families, in Beirut refugee camps and they later educated some impressions of the uprooting in shadow puppet shows, that were printed in a Jana publication entitled: “The Uprooting”.