with Firas Shehadeh
Words by Mudar Al-Khufash & Firas Shahdeh
Photos by Deniz Örs
AESTHETICS OF LIBERATION
“I’m very angry, I’m very sad,” Firas declares. Helplessness sprouting into anger is no rare emotion shared by the majority, if not the entirety of Palestinians —men, women, young and old, diasporic or under siege—but rather what constitutes their being and perceptual experience. Between A, C, G, and T, a transgenerational trauma has been passing on for the last 7 decades, like a disorder, A N G E R is inscribed in their DNA, mutating and taking varied forms, rendering this desolated strata tangible, perhaps, easier to unpack and to process. The universality of the Palestinian struggle, in all its layers; colonial, gender, feminist, ecological, or economic, makes it one, not solely exclusive to Palestinians, but to humanity as a whole, and of which we all could learn from.
IT'S A VIOLENT STORY, BUT A VERY SIMPLE ONE, A STORY OF A COLONIZER AND A COLONIZED
Gucci is Nice
“It's a complex story when you call it a “conflict”, but for the Palestinian indigenous people, know very well that there is no political conflict in Palestine, but a colonial project, colonialism with the whole package that comes with it. It's a violent story, but a very simple one, a story of a colonizer and a colonized. And all the discourse that the European man built over “conflict” is simply an attempt to blur and to whitewash the colonial violence in Palestine and over the Palestinian people everywhere.” Firas explains.
Contemporaneity and innovation to speak their position, are among the many challenges facing Palestinians, hindering them from gaining a foothold in the discourse they found themselves in or steering it effectively toward their direction. A new language is urgently needed, one that is beyond symbolism, tradition, or nostalgia. “Post-colonial nations and cultures frequently face a major dilemma, when it comes to the question of contemporaneity,” Firas adds. “People confuse Contemporaneity with coolism and/or culture industry (Kulturindustrie). Frantz Fanon writes in Black Skin, White Masks… “That the real leap consists in introducing invention into existence,” this invention cannot be enslaved in the past. Then Fanon adds “I am endlessly creating myself.” The assumption that we have to choose between whether to submit to essentialism and identity politics or coolism and entertainment is doomed. “The new man” that Fanon calls for, is a man of constant self-creating, a man of invention. The anti-colonial struggles of the so-called “The Global South” – the south is not so south anymore, the cardinal directions are overrated, Land is body and maps are colonial – has to be contemporary, aesthetics of liberation is not a luxury but the opposite.” He continued.
Settled at the outskirts of the establishment, he freely operates around his contemporaries, defying any form or affiliation to groups, allowing his work to flourish unbinned to any restraining conditions that might influence it. As he puts it: “ Gucci is nice, but whenever there is money involved, there is corruption”. At sıxty four billion dollar in value, collectors trade and tastes are made at art markets. Art, sadly, continues to be a form of investment.
“I am always seeking different ways and directions of expression, it doesn’t matter if it is an A4 paper photocopy, a 3D render, or a video. What really matters to me is the concept. You can have 10 ideas every day, but maybe one of them can be developed into a concept that you can develop a visual analysis of it. I don’t see my work as a representation, I actually don’t believe in representation at all, it's always subjective. I am just sharing research, an experience, an image, or a thought.”
Raised in a Palestinian refugee camp, Firas studied in UNRWA school in Jordan. In 2008, he completed a degree in architecture in Amman, leading him to an enduring diasporic life in Vienna since 2015, where he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and is currently residing. Being at these juncture positions, he is found in a sphere of hybridity, deriving ideas and developing concepts. Hybridity commonly refers to the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization. It is possibly one effective tool to subvert the narratives of colonial power and a way to grow this new language capable of dismantling the highly sophisticated strategies of dominance enforced by brutal colonial practices. “
His work, Pure Life, as he describes it: “ is an exercise in recomposing life/non-life forms, taking the Dead Sea as a cornerstone for imagining new forms of “life” after the “Anthropocene”/Capitalocene, examining the interaction between indigenous bacteria and colonial contamination in a digital ecosystem. It is a research on Ecology, ecological justice, and post-colonial ecology, concerning technology, the internet, and the mass digitization of life.”
Pure Life, 3d animation, windows xp aquarium screensaver, IBM ThinkPad, helping third-hand magnifier, rock salt, microscope, algae, saltwater, electric wire cable, SAD lamp, rock, artificial grass. 2020
Live Fast Die Young, single channel 4k video (color, silent, loop), bullet holes, metal chain, tires, black wooden box, adidas sports shoes, 3-hole mask, blue screen, white neon lights. 2019
While in Live Fast Die Young, he continues: “ is based on the question of solidarity and the hyper-economy of the image. Jean Genet discusses an image economy that is projected into the essentials of revolution as a fashionable interface with the intention to attract world attention and generate solidarity with the Palestinian fedayeen and Black Panthers. The installation, which imitates blue wall studio as a setting, creates an accelerated image of fedayeen through certain artifacts that refer back to the ongoing conditions of the resistance.”
CYNICAL, PESSIMISTIC, PERSISTENT, ANXIOUS, MELANCHOLIC, TUMULTUOUS, VIOLENT, AND SAVAGE.
On Instagram, where flatness reigns and mind dopamine jerking quickies are what everybody is after. The teardrop series, on Firas’ Instagram profile, is tragically funny and a glance into his wittiness. Theodor Adorno, Edwards Snowden, Amiri Baraka, or a crow, no one/thing seems to escape a teardrop placed underneath their eye. A minor visual addition, yet very deep in all the meanings it’s instantly given. Here is what Firas had to say about it... I use water drop emoji as a sign. It has so many meanings that implode in the context of the image I work with. It is a reflection on the human and cultural condition, it signifies a state of sadness, revenge, anxiety, anger, and futility. Using a platform (Instagram) where people are constantly creating unreal worlds of spectacle and seduction –sign exchange value. It functions as throwing a spanner in the works, industrial sabotage.
Unconventional “artwork”, instant, ironic and sincere, attacks itself and the viewer where images detonate other meanings and contexts, endless reproductions of fundamentally empty appearance.
The teardrop Instagram-stories series denotes a state in which earnest and ironic intentions become muddled. A symbolic water drop emoji of a tear that is placed underneath the eye – in archival pictures, illustrations, political figures, photos from every day of things, animals or people around me, book covers, currency, machines, poets, writers, and singers...etc. – or any other objects that signify an eye. "I use the teardrop in reference to and inspired by the teardrop tattoo that is tied to the history of hip hop and prisons in the US and that by itself is very much connected to the history of colonialism, slavery, capitalism, and racism."
Works as potent as Amiri Baraka concludes in his poem Black Art, written in 1965 after the assassination of Malcolm X, is the kind of force needed for arriving at the change the oppressed and the colonized would like to live, and the tone Firas ascribes to... ✳
“WE WANT POEMS THAT KILL.
ASSASSIN POEMS, POEMS THAT SHOOT GUNS.
POEMS THAT WRESTLE COPS INTO ALLEYS
AND TAKE THEIR WEAPONS LEAVING THEM DEAD”