Bibi’s House – an exhibition of the art residency at Yaffa – The Arab Democratic School

Picture28Bibi’s House (2010-2013)  A project with 11th -12th grade pupils at the Arab Democratic School in Jaffa and the students of the Studio for Community Architecture. The project included learning about Jaffa’s past and production of various art work and art interventions in public spaces. The highlight of the project was the creation of plans and models for transforming the school’s building, which belonged before 1948 to the Palestinian Ali Bibi family, back into a family house and a small museum. The project ended in a big exhibition that was part of “Open House” Architecture weekend.

Picture31   The exhibit “Bibi’s House” is a cooperation between the artist and culture theoretician  Gil Mualem Doron and pupils of the Arab Democratic School. The exhibit deals with the history of the school building and of Jaffa, in the creative frame of “pedagogic art” and by means of artistic political intervention in the urban space. The exhibit includes a sound presentation that overflows the walls of the building into the street, art-video films that document the pupils’ artistic involvement in the city space (primarily in Manshieh District), photos and architectural models. The exhibition is presented in the frame of the Festival of Architecture of Housing Interiors. Bibi’s House is a well house built in 1910 in the Jaffa Muslim style by Haj Ali Bibi, head of one of Jaffa’s rich families.[ii] In the 1948 war the family left the house in the expectation of returning when the battles ended – something denied them till this day. The house and surrounding orange groves were confiscated by the state, which sold them into private hands. In the beginning the building served light industry, and from the 1950s it became  a chemistry school. For the last five years it has housed the Arab Democratic School for Science and Technology. The exhibition focuses on two main locations: the Bibi House in Nuzha District (13 Gaza Street), and Manshieh District – now a wasteland, a park and car parks area between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Manshieh (in Arabic “new district”), where according to Walid Bibi the family had a house, was the central place for study and creativity. Few among the pupils knew that under the place where they love to stroll, the Charles Clore Park and the asphalt parking lot of the Ottoman railway station, lies one of the most developed of Jaffa’s neighbourhood, of 10,000 residents, most of them Arabs from Jaffa.[iii] The occupation of the neighbourhood in 1948 and its erasure  from the ground and from the collective memory of the city’s residents was one reason for its choice as the scene of study and action. This activity strayed from memory and documentation of the past in trying to point to the place, which is still the both the dividing point and bridge between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, as a potential arena for change.   Picture26 “To move a mountain, you begin with the small stones.” The project started with the pupils collecting broken floor tiles from a derelict starch of land at the edge of two parks in Jaffa, which were for years a damping ground to demolished Arab houses in Jaffa, especially of the Manshieh Neighborhood. The tile fragments collected from Ajami beach were returned to Manshieh to serve as the “floor” for models of buildings typical of the neighborhood – models divided into two categories: firstly, miniature representatives of houses and, secondly, conceptual models of collages that incorporated textual-visual information on the history of the neighborhood. The models were laid across Manshieh in a kind of temporary exhibit, appearing, inter alia, on the outer walls of the Etzel Museum that took control over one building, on the steps of Textile House and the Dan Panorama Hotel and around the Ottoman railway station. While placing models in the past, and in further activities in the coming month, the pupils ask passers-by what they know about Manshieh. Gigantic drawings of Manshieh buildings were drawn on the asphalt of the station parking lot, which covers the ruins of some buildings. The exhibit presents some of the models, photos of them printed on sandbags and a series of short films of “pedagogic acts” that describe the process and the artistic intervention in the urban space. The sandbags that appear as a recurring motif of the exhibition both as an echo of the myth that Tel Aviv was built on the sand – and not upon and between a series of ten Palestinian villages. The bags (filled with sand from Manshieh) correspond with the tradition of Palestinian refugees preserving a handful of soil. The sand in the bags in fact cancels the possibility of using images as something only of aesthetic value. To hang photos, the sacks must be emptied, and the jute cloth needs to be framed. Picture29Picture51Picture50Picture45Picture46Picture47 Picture48Picture5 The project “We Returned to the Land to Build and be Rebuilt” was created of the future narrative in which the Bibi family returns to Jaffa to live at 13 Gaza Street. In this project of the Studio for Community Architecture, the students restored the building to residential use while adding a “gallery” of items from the history of the family and of Jaffa over the preceding century. Within this frame, the students underwent a design and model building workshop together with fifth and sixth grade pupils of the school, which dealt with the history of the building, the tradition of Muslim architecture in general and of Jaffa in particular, and constructed conceptual examples of future design. In the exhibit are presented models that focused on the change and development of the “divan” (the central space of the house in Muslim architecture) and the surrounding rooms, with photos of these models. Picture10Picture9Picture13Picture37Picture12Picture11Picture44Picture41Picture42Picture43Picture41 Room Installation: My Jaffa   “ My Jaffa” is a photographic project by the pupils in the frame of the International Education Forum – Palestine Festival. The well known images of Jaffa – Clock Tower Square, the port, the Old City, etc. – were ignored, to be replaced by the daily locations in which the pupils live, including the housing distress in Jaffa in general, and among the Arab population where it has reached previously unknown levels that have become the centerpiece of demonstrations in Jaffa in the last two years.[iv] Jaffa is depicted in this series of photos in the vast collection of characteristics of well houses, tenements, private homes, shacks and illegal building. The project shows new buildings facing the neglect, deprivation and discrimination. The photos appear on the poles regularly used to hang placards at demonstrations in which the Committee for the Arabs of Jaffa participates. The poles are wedged into blocks. Yehudit Ilani, photographer and member of the Popular Committee Against House Demolitions, shared her know-how in the presentation of the photographs. Picture36Picture34Picture35Picture15Picture16Picture18Picture17 Picture14     Walls Talk” a sound presentation (in a new exhibition the sound installation will be re created as a short film in which the talk will be integrated)   This work by Mualem Doron included placing on the walls of the structure and in the well a series of audio excerpts from an interview with Walid Bibi, grandson of Ali Bibi, who lived in this place till the age of 17. The interview was conducted by A. Dandeis and F. Salameh as a part of the Palestine Remembered oral history project. It lasted for more than five hours, and detailed the personal and collective history of Jaffa in the first half of the twentieth century. Mualem Doron selected for the sound presentation an hour long excerpt in which Walid Bibi focuses on the family and the house where he grew up. Parts of the interview were translated into Hebrew and are placed by the source of the voices. Architect Alice Abed and Assad Zuabi participated in selecting excerpts. Picture33 Pedagogic Acts” short films   Important part of the exhibition is a series of short films titled “Pedagogic Acts. These films describe the pupils’ art actions in and outside the school and document the artistic-pedagogic methods that were used in these projects.   Picture19Picture23Picture24Picture25Picture20Picture21Picture22