Palestinian film director and artist Khaled Jarrar is known for his controversial, and often satirical, artistic output. So it comes as no surprise that his most recent experiment with NFT art explicitly polemicizes the Israeli occupation of Palestine, specifically the direct attack on the land’s fertility and biodiversity. His piece is an open denunciation of Israel removing fecund soil from where Palestinians dwell and moving it into the regions populated by Israelis for agricultural purposes. Jarrar’s “If I don’t steal your home, someone else will steal it” demonstrates his refusal to keep silent in the face of the Israeli tactics to diversify and further the humiliation and disregard for the Palestinian people.
Jarrar is no stranger to critiquing the Israeli occupation that has been ongoing since 1948. All of his work employs criticism of the global denial and complicity when it comes to the situation of his homeland. Since the early 2000s, his art has uniquely disputed the normalization of the military complex and colonial violence. Whether directly related to the Palestinian situation or not, the artist utilizes objects for engaging these themes, resounding the call for “Free Palestine”. In this way his art demonstrates how all is linked together and the need for global liberation from oppressive and violent geopolitical systems can begin with freeing Palestine. One example of this commentary is when he sold vials of blood on Wall Street to match defense contractors’ stock in New York. More explicitly speaking to the Israeli occupation, he once secretly chiseled pieces from the West Bank wall to later use it as material for sculptures, creating objects like ping pong balls and paddles, which were included in an exhibition in London. In 2014 he was denied exit from his land via the Al-Karameh Bridge, which is the sole exit point for Palestinians traveling abroad, causing him to miss a panel on Arab contemporary art to be held at the New Museum in New York. But his activism, work and innovation is relentless. And he draws inspiration from these imposed limitations Palestinian bodies experience on a global scale. Since then he has installed “Khaled’s Ladder”, a sculpture of a ladder using a piece of the wall from the US/Mexican border, exhibiting it just meters from the wall itself on the Mexican side. And again, unfazed by the travel incident, we see him engage in the intimate and violent performance “I’m Good at Shooting, Bad at Painting” in New Mexico. Intimate in that it references his past as an integral part of Yasir Arafat’s personal security team, while also offering a closeness with the onlookers by inviting them to participate in the performance. During the performance he handles an AR-15 with a cup of “American coffee and a donut” while pulverizing bottles of paint that splattered large canvases and clippings of the audience’s clothing between sips of coffee at an office desk. An intentionally collective performance, worth noting the always present element of Jarrar’s work, a summons for collective response from the people who view his art.
It is clear that Jarrar decisively chooses the elements in his art as a way to engage the Palestinian occupation from distinctive angles. He offers a perspective that calls to question the general notion that the Israeli-Palestine conflict is too complex to understand, resulting in a stalemate that impedes any real solution, let alone fair and balanced exposure in mainstream media. But in fact, he expresses just the opposite through film, sculpture, performance and now, cryptoart. Interacting physically with the usurped land, his most recent work shows that the liberation of Palestine is an opportunity for the world to learn a profound lesson in justice and liberation by addressing the historic maltreatment of Israel and reckoning with the blatant disregard of Palestine from the global community. Without any intention to coincide with the current news on Palestine, Khaled Jarrar’s “If I don’t steal your home, someone else will steal it” polemicized the occupation and injustices lived day in and day out since 1948. And in collaboration with SPSK (An NFT Focused Art Collective), he released the limited edition NFT (non-fungible token) by placing it on the decentralized auction house Zora. And by offering a jar of dirt with the NFT piece, it not only exposes the unjust occupation but also highlights the economic limitations, and agriculture terracides being directly implemented by Israel and its detrimental consequences on Palestinians. In their own words SPSK states on their website:
“Jarrar seeks to heighten awareness around the plight of Palestinian identity, particularly as it applies to the ongoing state of apartheid and occupation today. By offering the works as an NFT, SPSK is working with Jarrar to illustrate the economic challenges that people in Palestine face as a result of decades long occupation and sanctions.”
It is no less, however, that the dirt was collected during Jarrar’s hikes through the hills and mountains of occupied Palestine. As such, it is a direct refusal to remain passive in the face of Israeli violence and illegitimate occupation, pushing him to seek the most culturally relevant and innovative expression to leverage his disconformity with the Israeli destruction of his native land. It invokes back to his refusal to accept a wall in his homeland as he subverted it’s chiseled pieces into objects of diversion and recreation. And it also calls to mind the lone standing ladder near the US/Mexico border, used as a reflective piece and a playground by neighborhood children to critique the border wall. Here, Jarrar peacefully and leisurely collects dirt, reclaiming it and appropriating it, placing it on a decentralized virtual market where no institution, government or agency can gain any control of it. Thus, Jarrar exposes the simple fact that Israel, backed by Western power, stole and violently maintains control of the stolen land. This piece is truly a contemporary act of civil resistance and disobedience, showing that cryptoart, and contemporary art from the Arab world, offers some of the most expressive and engaging pieces of art today.
Khaled Jarrar is a strong singular voice in the art world and for Palestine. However, if you look into his work, one will quickly grasp how his performances are inclusive and his work always leaves room for participation from the audience and other individuals. The collective experience innate in Jarrar’s art, both inspires and challenges the art world and its community across the globe. And perhaps the most important results blossoming from Jarrar’s interventions, are the young Palestinians living in occupation and in diaspora who are finding inspiration to demand that their voices be heard. Khaled Jarrar and SPSK are not done either. The artist’s “State of Palestine Postage Stamp” NFT will be minted and offered for sale at the upcoming Crypto and Digital Art Fair in Paris this June 2021.
Written by Paul Holzman.