When I was growing up, art was the one place where I could speak," says Emily Jacir, whose art is both visually and emotionally stunning. Jacir's complex and creative engagement of serious issues has been met with much acclaim and her artwork has been exhibited throughout the world, including at the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Born in 1970 to a Bethlehem family, Jacir grew up in Saudi Arabia and attended high school in Italy. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Dallas and her MFA from the Memphis College of Art. Currently, she divides her time between New York and Ramallah.
Beginning her career as a painter, Jacir gradually shifted her focus to conceptual art, where "I use whatever medium I deem necessary to express my idea or concept." Now Jacir works in a variety of media including film, photography, installation, performance, video, writing and sound. She has toured extensively throughout the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East, holding solo exhibitions in places including New York, Los Angeles, Ramallah, London and Linz and participating in group exhibitions worldwide.
We are probably amongst the most discussed, yet most misrepresented people in the world. We are constantly dissected by foreign 'experts' who 'explain' who we supposedly are. People have no problem claiming agency to speak on our behalf. Our narrative, our story is absent from history books. I made 'Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages which were Destroyed, Depopulated and Occupied by Israel in 1948' in English because I wanted people to be able to read the names and say them out loud and question why they had not heard of those names before."
Emily Jacir's most acclaimed piece is Where We Come From, in which she asked Palestinians around the world "If I could do something for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?" She then documented herself fulfilling the requests for people who are prohibited entry into their own homeland and/or who are restricted from movement within it. These included visiting a mother's grave, playing soccer with a boy in Haifa, and visiting a student's family in Gaza because he is prevented from traveling home while at school in the West Bank.
Other works, such as Crossing Surda (a record of going to and from work), depict the isolation and lack of freedom that are part of her everyday routine in Ramallah. In it, she secretly taped her daily journey through the Surda checkpoint on her way to Birzeit University after being threatened by Israeli soldiers and forced to spend a day standing in the cold winter rain next to one of their tanks.
Jacir's art has appeared in a number of Biennales including the 2006 Sydney Biennale, the 2005 and 2007 Venice Biennales, the 2005 Sharjah Biennial and the 2004 Whitney Biennial. In 2007, Jacir was a recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Award, an annual prize from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, headquartered in The Hague.
Above: Memorial to 418 Palestinian villages which were destroyed, depopulated, and occupied by Israel in 1948. Refugee Tent and embroidery thread. Emily Jacir, 2001.