Space of Refuge مساحة لجوء
A spatial installation about the other Palestinian space
‘Space of Refuge’ (مساحة لجوء) is an exhibition/spatial installation which emerged out of a PhD research currently being conducted by Samar Maqusi at the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL). The research looks into the spatial production and evolution of the Palestine Refugee Camp, with a focus on acts of ‘spatial violations’ through fieldwork investigation carried out in Jordan and Lebanon. Further, it investigates the parameters, be it socio-economical, cultural or political which determined the form and scale at which the camp developed into, spatially today. CatalyticAction was involved in this research from March 2015 focusing mainly on the design of the intervention and then its implementation on site (Amman, Jordan) in July 2015.
The exhibition builds a spatial archive of Palestine camps in the different host countries and develops an artistic language to share it with other refugee camps in the form of Spatial Installations and Exhibitions. This would become the forum in which knowledge and history between refugee camps are shared and exchanged, something we call ‘transfer of knowledge and space’. As there is no doubt that art remains a language that we all share as people and communities, regardless of how empowered or marginalized we may be, we chose to translate the research findings into a spatial art installation which merges two camp spaces from two different host countries (Baqa’a camp in Jordan and the Burj el Barajneh camp in Lebanon) to produce a hybrid third.Exhibition Site:
The exhibition was installed in Baqa’a camp, in Jordan within one of the few remaining ‘public’ buildings in the camp, commonly referred to as Jami’yeh, meaning a public association. As the concept was to overlap two camp spaces, the Jami’yeh itself was the fist space representing Baqa’a camp, and the spatial installation was the second space representing Burj el Barajneh camp. By doing so, the installation would bring about the similarities and differences of these two camps, and produce a dialogue on what does a refugee camp mean today, and where is the camp heading towards.Process and Building Team:
An overwhelming number of volunteers, of all ages, approached us and asked to be a part of the exhibition. Due to this positive out-turn, a core volunteer group was established, yet we decided to keep the exhibition-space door open throughout the building process for anyone interested in helping and producing the art installation with us. What resulted was a collective forum which brought together refugees from all strata, and volunteers from different parts of the world (London, Italy, Lebanon, USA, Jordan) to work together in designing and producing an art installation that can best communicate the history and story of refugee lives and spaces. What was unique in this process is that because we all collaborated in ‘space-making’ which is the most common skill found amongst refugees, we instantly shared a common language which allowed us to feel equal and connected, yet at the same time, it provided the space for us to also share our differences and exchange our stories.
In addition, 90% of the exhibition material was either bought or rented from the camp itself, and all equipment used in building the exhibition and installation was rented from the camp shops or borrowed from the refugees themselves. The material that was bought has been stored to be re-used in future installations.
‘Space of Refuge’ (مساحة لجوء) consisted of 3 main installations, each addressing a different spatial issue within the camp’s history, yet all coming together to perform as one continuous spatial journey.
1. The Pathway:
A spatial installation sized 3m wide X 4m long was built on an existing pathway, next to the main exhibition building, and was left standing for 2 weeks. The installation concept stemmed out of overlapping 2 spaces, or rather 2 spatial scales, an exiting one in Baqa’a camp (being the pathway itself) with a borrowed one from Burj el Barajneh camp (by re-creating a pathway from that camp) to produce a third hybrid space. By building the installation in an everyday space like the pathway, used throughout the day and night, we allowed the art to take a life of its own, one that is re-shaped by opening it up for everyday use by refugees and children.
2. The Room:
Over 200 photographs, collected from historical archives, and photographed over the last 2 years were exhibited on the ground floor of the Jami’yeh building. The photographs were hung on strings by wooden clips, adopting a traditional form of hanging clothes in the camp, which still exists today. This form allowed the visitors to walk through the room in a more intimate manner, providing a dynamic, familiar space for discussion and emotional association.
3. The Roof:
Another spatial installation was created on the roof of the Jami’yeh building, which was a continuation of the pathway installation. An empty roof with high walls, 10mX10m (100m2 open room) was transformed into a life-sized physical model, which was based on a section taken from Burj el Barajneh camp in Lebanon. The idea was to introduce a different scale, and spatial form taken from an existing Palestinian camp in Lebanon and re-interpret it into a spatial installation on the grounds of Baqa’a camp in Jordan. Visitors were able to walk through a maze-like installation (based on real dimensions from Burj el Barajneh), to allow the refugees in Baqa’a camp to learn about other camp-spaces, which emerged out of the same crisis, and negotiate the reasons why two refugee camps can be so spatially different, yet so culturally and historically alike. An overwhelming sentiment which was re-iterated by refugees over and over, was that they felt they were able to visit another camp without having to leave their own camp.
The language of art and artistic installations are rarely produced inside the camp, let alone, exhibited inside the camp. Therefore, our challenge was to create a new approach to art-making and exhibiting which would be completely based on knowledge and information acquired from the camp, and later created inside the camp with the complete collaboration between us, as artists and volunteers, and the refugees.This was our leading philosophy, and it is what allowed us to remain grounded as artists and designers, to be able to produce a unique installation and forum of knowledge-exchange inside the camp, which would later allow us to re-interpret it in other spaces around the world.
The success of our idea was confirmed during the 3-day official opening of the exhibition, as we saw refugees, those who volunteered and others who were in and out during the building process, guiding their friends and other refugee visitors through the exhibition and installation and explaining what they felt and interpreted to be the aim and philosophy behind this work. This is where we felt a new, and desperately needed collective was being born inside the camp. This is where the dialogue began.