Barry Schwabsky at The Nation:
“In the presence of the violent reality of war,” wrote Wallace Stevens in 1942, “consciousness takes the place of the imagination.” What the poet meant is that in wartime, “everything moves in the direction of reality, that is to say, in the direction of fact,” so that “we leave fact and come back to it, come back to what we wanted fact to be, not to what it was, not to what it has too often remained.” But this pressure toward fact and the desire to change, to remake the facts, become “overwhelming.”
It was difficult to look at “Here and Elsewhere,” the capacious exhibition of “contemporary art from and about the Arab world” (to quote from the press release), without sensing this overwhelming pressure toward fact. In part, this was a matter of timing. My first visit to the show, on view at the New Museum in New York City through September 28, took place the day after it opened on July 16, and just after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, the attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,000 people, most of them civilians and many of them children, and left many more homeless. To encounter so much art so deeply marked by the fact of violence was hard to bear. My attention was relentlessly drawn to works like those from Lamia Joreige’s Objects of War series, begun in 1999, in which videos of people being interviewed about objects that evoke memories of the wars that ravaged Lebanon in the 1970s and ’80s are juxtaposed with the objects themselves. There was also Khaled Jarrar’s 2012 feature-length video Infiltrators, which follows the agonizing efforts of Palestinians to breach the wall separating Israel from the Occupied Territories—not to commit acts of terrorism, but mainly for economic and personal reasons.