"So we were uprooted... Uprooted, leaving behind us in Palestine our spirit, our hope, our childhood, our joy and our sadness. We left them all across the country, in every grain of sand in the land of Palestine. We left Palestine enamored in the clay oven, lemon fruit and olive. We left her in the fields, the roses and the flowers. We left her in the Al-Fitna tree, towering proudly at the entrance to our home in Ramle, we left her in the graves of our ancestors. We left her in the ancient ruins, monuments and history. We left her in hope” (Bashir al-Khayri, 1997, خفقان الذاكرة Letters to the Lemon Tree)
This is how al-Khayri, a Palestinian refugee, describes his lost homeland. To him, lemon is more than a fruit – it is a childhood memory, it is love, it is the metaphor for home. That lemon, whose leaves adorn the head of the young woman in one of Samah Shehade’s paintings, charges the exhibition with the politicality, with the locality of that sign, in its cultural and national identification.
That same memorial dimension also imbues the female portraits in the exhibition. The Land of Palestine has often been portrayed as a woman, a lover, a virgin or a mother, particularly after the loss and deportation of 1948, thereby attributed a gender identity to the homeland. The woman, who became the marker of Palestinian national identity, is presented here in the space of the Palestinian house through a series of virtuoso hyperrealist sketches of women on their own. The traditional clothes worn by most of these feminine icons should not be construed as an attempt by the artist to revive traditional culture, but rather as a consciously designed mixture of old and new, that makes for a culture of resistance. This is not only resistance to the oppressive identification of home and woman throughout history, but particularly to the “natural” identification of the home space with the private sphere. This latter identification demonstrates the tragic banality inherent in domesticity, since during and after the 1948 Nakba, Palestinian domestic existence has been exposed to state violence, forcibly laid bare and destroyed. In this sense, the exhibition seeks to expose the private home as an arena where the boundaries of the political body are sketched, boundaries that separate those whose lives are protected from those whose homes are exposed and earmarked for destruction.