Middle East Studies

Sherena Razek explores photo-based representations of displacement, occupation and yearnings with MES Research Travel Award funding

Palestine, Part I

During my first research trip to Palestine, I stayed with Dr. Rehab Nazzal, a documentary photographer and chair of the Visual Arts Program at Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, in Bethlehem. At her apartment and home studio, I conducted interviews with Dr. Nazzal about her ongoing practice of photographing protests as an active participant and witness. Dr. Nazzal invited me to write the introductory essay for her photo essay publication “Resistance Portraits” that captures portraits of young protestors from Aida Refugee camp and Dheisheh Refugee Camp organizing in the streets of Bethelehem. During my stay, she gave me a comprehensive tour of the occupation in Bethlehem that included visits to the aforementioned camps and the separation wall and watchtowers that enclose them, as well as neighbouring Beit Jala and Beit Sahour where the historic home of the earliest known Palestinian woman photographer, Karimeh Abbud stands. I also visited the grounds of Dar Jacir, the restored family home of contemporary artist Emily Jacir and her sister and filmmaker Annemarie Jacir which has been recently renovated to house artist residencies, research, and exhibitions. 

Dr. Nazzal introduced me to her contemporary, Rula Halawani, a photo-based artist based in Bethlehem whose work I’ve written about before, as well as her daughter, Rana Nazzal, in Ramallah, a young filmmaker working on documenting agricultural resistance in the West Bank. I was invited to return next summer to deliver a paper at the Art and Resistance Conference at Dar al-Kalima called “Indigenous Imaginaries” which will occur at the same time as the co-organized Bethlehem Biennale – the first of its kind to take place in the Occupied West Bank.


While in Amman I visited the American Centre of Oriental Research’s Photographic Archive Project and went through the collection of not yet public photos from Palestine, mostly from the 70s and 80s. While at ACOR I met with Director Barbara A. Porter and had meetings also with Associate Director Dr. Jack Green and Assistant Director Akemi Horii who discussed the history of the archive and the different fellowship opportunities for PhD students at ACOR. I also connected with Dr. Kimberly Katz, Professor of Middle Eastern History at Towson there.

I visited several innovative contemporary art spaces in the downtown including the Mohammad and Mahera Abu Ghazaleh Foundation for Art & Culture (known as MMAG Foundation) and Darat-al Funun, an institution for artistic practice, research and exchange which offers a 4-6 month Dissertation Fellowship for Modern and Contemporary Arab Art.  

Palestine, Part II

My father joined me part way through my research trip to celebrate Eid al-Fitr with our immediate family in Amman and to take me to our village, Burqa, in the West Bank (my first time) where we stayed with our family. I documented the trip in photographs and took notes from the conversations I had with my dad’s cousin, his wife, and their children.

We also visited the recently opened Palestinian Museum, and its third exhibition Intimate Terrains: Representations of a Disappearing Landscape, the Mahmoud Darwish Museum and and Khalil Sakakini cultural centre. At the Palestinian Museum I connected with the curator of the exhibition and scholar of Palestinian contemporary art, Dr. Tina Sherwell. 


While in Beirut I participated in a public city walking tour called “Layers of a Ghost City” led by Marc Ghazali, which explores the persisting material traces of the Lebanese Civil War in the reconstructed downtown. I also visited the Sursock Museum of contemporary art and researched Palestinian/Lebanese artists in its library.