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Basma al-Sharif

Still from Basma al-Sharif / Farther than the Eye Can See, 2012. Written by Àngels Miralda.

“I wanted Palestine to become everywhere, every place. To shed its identity as a kind of singular conflict and to explore it as a phenomenon of the human condition — the darker sides of humanity coupled with an impossible perseverance and steadfastness to hope beyond hope. I felt that this kind of representation would address the present, and in that way become somewhat removed from Palestine as an icon of struggle to one of being a kind of microcosm for humanity through which anyone could reflect on the present, and the future of anywhere and everywhere.”Basma al-Sharif in Gaza on Screen (Duke University Press, 2023).
A black and white artwork card with the text 'Basma al-Sharif -Farther Than The Eye Can See, 2012' and 'Artwork' on it.

The films of Basma al-Sharif often contain landscapes, cityscapes, and social environments that map out the fractured psychogeography of the Palestinian diaspora. She represents her own experience, as a drifting subject between the Middle East, Europe, and the US, and the resulting understanding of a shattered world that taps into a relatable experience of wanderers. The films offer a visual description of the duality of distance that provides both safety and yearning. If diasporic identities become more complex and layered from various inputs and influences, they simultaneously become more defined by their singularity among otherness. Al-Sharif’s films layer memory through superimposed locations building vignettes of nonlinear time. History is not something of the past, but an object that is carried from place to place by the witness. The importance of the body as it moves through space and time provokes the discontinuous and fractured psychological landscape that pertains to the exile, the expulsed, and the survivor.

In Farther than the Eye Can See the silhouettes of autumn trees in the suburban United States frame the beginning of an account of the forced expulsions of the Palestinian people during the Nakba in 1948. This unlikely beginning shows a human figure cycling through a forest as the camera looks both forwards and backwards as the body accelerates towards an unknown destination and from an unclear origin. This scene opens a film whose narration is spoken by a male US American voice that alters and stumbles over unfamiliar words as cityscapes flash before us like a puzzle that never fits together.

A witness of the Nakba recounts her journey as her family struggled to find a driver to bring them to safety. Adults and children were carried away from a home to which they would never return and flung into an unstable world of disjointed landscapes and languages. The voice over obnoxiously erases the original Arabic, simultaneously making the words accessible as well as covering the original recording in an impossible translation. Spoken in a deadpan neutrality, the narrator eliminates the pain of lived experience. French subtitles add to the desire to be heard and the frustration at its futility.

The film starts at the end and moves backwards in time - away from the sparse winter trees of the suburban North and into the palm-lined ochres of a dusty skyline. An inherited and multi-generational story pans out over the world in glitching cityscapes captured from the back of a moving vehicle. The skyscrapers and blocks of buildings slowly disappear into the receding horizon, expressing a sense of loss and looking back through time at what will never be again. The film remains anchored in the oral histories that provide the backbone of identity, even as it is diluted and collaged with an ever increasing amount of languages and biomes. The camera pans up to the open and groundless sky shared by every continent.

Palestinian artist/filmmaker Basma al-Sharif explores cyclical political histories and conflicts. In films and installations that move backward and forward in history, between place and non-place, she confronts the legacy of colonialism through satirical, immersive, and lyrical works.She received an MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2007, was a resident of the Fondazione Antonio Ratti in 2009, the Pavillon Neuflize OBC at the Palais de Tokyo in 2014-15. She received a Jury prize at the Sharjah Biennial in 2009, was awarded a Visual Arts of the Fundación Botín in 2010, Mophradat’s Consortium Commissions in 2018, she was a fellow of the Berlin Artistic Research Grant Programme for 2022-2023 and was nominated for the Prix Aware for 2024.Al-Sharif’s Major exhibitions include the Ruttenberg Contemporary Photography Series for the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Mondays at MOMA, CCA Glasgow, the Whitney Biennial, Here and Elsewhere at the New Museum, Berlin Documentary Forum, and Manifesta 8. Her films have been screened in the international film festivals of Locarno, Berlin, Mar del Plata, Milan, London, Toronto, New York, Montreal, and Yamagata amongst others. Basma is represented by Galerie Imane Farés in Paris.
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