Recent Acquisitions at the LRC: The Agonizing and Absurd Moments of Palestinian Life

The next time you visit NMWA, come to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see new books on women in the arts, as well as reference books, artists’ books, and more. Meet Tanya Habjouqa at the museum on Wednesday, July 27 for a special in-gallery program.

The cover of Occupied Pleasures by Tanya Habjouqa, FotoEvidence, 2015

The cover of Occupied Pleasures by Tanya Habjouqa, FotoEvidence, 2015

Occupied Pleasures
Tanya Habjouqa
(FotoEvidence, 2015)

Jordanian photographer Tanya Habjouqa reveals the agonizing and absurd instants of occupied Palestinian life in Occupied Pleasures. In the foreword, poet Nathalie Handal describes the book as “a collection of stories captured in images, images like Palestinian lives lived in instants only.” Habjouqa’s photographs portray joyous moments­­ of daily life—a family picnics together, women dance, and children swim—that are surrounded by dark circumstances. The occupation is obvious in these images: the menacing security wall looms in the background, a man sits at a checkpoint, a woman holding a bouquet wanders through the tunnel between Gaza and Egypt to a forbidden wedding.

Habjouqa’s work has been exhibited and published worldwide, and six of her photographs are currently on view at NMWA in She Who Tells a Story. She currently works from East Jerusalem on projects concerning identity politics and subcultures of the Levant. Habjouqa is also a founding member of the Rawiya photo collective, a group of women photographers from the Middle East who challenge stereotypes and support fellow women photographers in the region.

Occupied Pleasures contains a combination of photojournalism and imagery illustrating everyday Palestinian life, which Laleh Khalili refers to in the book’s introduction as “evanescent moments.” This body of work offers a nuanced perspective. Khalili writes, “It brings together the indisputable condition of their lives—occupation, violence, surveillance—and shows us that even within the confines of normalised atrocity, the spirit effervesces.”

In one captivating photograph, a man smokes a cigarette in his car outside of a checkpoint, with a sheep in the passenger seat of his car. “Detention juxtaposed against a moment of respite illuminates the extremities of the Palestinian narrative: celebration and mourning, respite and struggle, and the pleasure of smoking a cigarette,” writes Khalili. Through this collection of photos, Habjouqa exposes moments of levity to give the viewer a window into the humanity of the Palestinian people.

Meet artist Tanya Habjouqa at the museum for an in-gallery conversation on Wednesday, July 27. Reserve your spot on NMWA’s website.

All are welcome to look at this catalogue, which is available in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you’re touring the museum, the library is open to the public Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

 ­­Katy Seely was the winter/spring 2016 intern in the Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Daniela Rossell

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Mexican photographer Daniela Rossell (b. 1973), whose work is on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries.

Daniela Rossell (b. 1973)

Daniela Rossell, Inge and Her Mother Ema in the Living Room from the series “Ricas y famosas,” NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Daniela Rossell, Inge and Her Mother Ema in the Living Room from the series “Ricas y famosas,” NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

1. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

In the series “Ricas y famosas,” Daniela Rossell photographed some of the most affluent women in Mexico—many of whom are associated with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the ruling party in Mexico from 1929 to 2000.

2. All in the Family

Rossell’s “Ricas y famosas” subjects are her own family members, friends, and acquaintances. The artist began the series with images of her grandmothers before focusing on the younger generations of women in her family. The project expanded as Rossell’s photographs impressed other women, who asked to be included.

3. Open to Interpretation

Daniela Rossell, Medusa, from the series “Ricas y famosas,” 1999; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Daniela Rossell, Medusa, from the series “Ricas y famosas,” 1999; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Rossell published the entire series as a book in 2002. Seen together, these portrayals of extreme wealth caused controversy throughout Mexico. Rossell and her subjects faced backlash as the public saw the cumulative body of work and viewed the women as “poster girls of corruption.”

4. Artistic Beginnings

Because her mother is an art collector, Rossell grew up surrounded by fine art. She began her career in her teens as an actress. She later studied painting at the National School of Visual Arts in Mexico City before shifting her attention to photography.

5. Creative Collaborations

Not unlike She Who Tells a Story artist Tanya Habjouqa’s process of spending time with her subjects in her series “Women of Gaza,” Rossell interviewed the women, toured their houses, and listened to their ideas before taking her shot—providing a more authentic image.

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

She Who Tells a Story: Tanya Habjouqa

In Arabic, the word rawiya means “she who tells a story.” Each artist in in NMWA’s summer exhibition She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World offers a vision of the world she has witnessed.

Tanya Habjouqa, Untitled, from the series “Women of Gaza,” 2009; Pigment print, 20 x 30 in.;Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum purchase with general funds and the Horace W. Goldsmith Fund for Photography, 2013.567; Photo © 2015 MFA, Boston

Tanya Habjouqa, Untitled, from the series “Women of Gaza,” 2009; Pigment print, 20 x 30 in.;Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum purchase with general funds and the Horace W. Goldsmith Fund for Photography, 2013.567; Photo © 2015 MFA, Boston

Tanya Habjouqa

(b. 1975, Amman, Jordan; lives East Jerusalem)

Tanya Habjouqa began her early career in Texas photographing migrant communities. Since moving back to the Middle East, she became one of the founding members of the Rawiya photography collective and continues to document everyday life and social issues. Her photographs follow the struggle of the region’s residents as they attempt to live under oppressive conditions.

In Her Own Words

“This coastal community has absorbed over 60 years of suffering, and still, in the face of adversity, maintains an enduring, but necessary, talent for survival, and humor. Life continues and so do the traditions and self-respect, a resistance to letting suffering be the standard definition.”—Tanya Habjouqa

“The more overt, obvious visuals are most often captured with endless local and ex-pat journalists. In some ways, those images have lost their meaning. They are so ubiquitous. There is never enough political context and the gruesome and overt signs of violence can be easy [for photographers to focus on]….What is harder is telling the human story here, which is why I often choose to find the everyday in conflict. Because this conflict is there every day. How they continue to strive and live in normalcy and even laugh.”—Tanya Habjouqa, audio recording for She Who Tells a Story

What’s On View?

Six photographs from Habjouqa’s “Women of Gaza” series are on view in She Who Tells a Story. Taken throughout Gaza over two months in 2009, Habjouqa’s photographs are not images typically associated with siege and conflict. Instead, Habjouqa captures moments of levity in everyday life.

Tanya Habjouqa, Untitled, from the series “Women of Gaza,” 2009, Pigment print, 20 x 30 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum purchase with general funds and the Horace W. Goldsmith Fund for Photography, 2013.566; Photograph © 2015 MFA Boston

Tanya Habjouqa, Untitled, from the series “Women of Gaza,” 2009, Pigment print, 20 x 30 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum purchase with general funds and the Horace W. Goldsmith Fund for Photography, 2013.566; Photograph © 2015 MFA Boston

One photograph depicts Gazan women in an aerobics class. The artist says, “These women agreed to be photographed with the caveat that I explained why they are wearing jilbaab, or the long coats, as they work out. They didn’t want to be mocked by the West for wearing such things as they work out. They wanted me to explain that they had very little space to work out or even just to be in public. The decimation of large parts of their neighborhood further limits that. Here they are working out in a public high school gym.”

Like all residents of the occupied territory of Gaza, women enjoy limited freedom. Habjouqa says, “By focusing on women, I gained access to all sectors of society, men and children too, and it was quite often the women who were struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy in their destructed lives and households.” Connecting intimately with her subjects, Habjouqa gently portrays the bright side of their not-always-so-bright lives.

Visit the museum and explore She Who Tells a Story, on view through July 31, 2016. Meet Tanya Habjouqa during an artist talk at the museum on July 27, 2016.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.