Paris artist started in Israel, stayed in Palestine

Washington – While so many artists focus on the conflict when exploring the Palestinian people, French anthropologist-cum-photographer Valerie Jouve prefers to excavate the soul of a place that has its “own culture, its history, and its people.”

Jouve began her photographic work after she was first asked to undertake a project in Israel, but after crossing the Green Line she now says her work in the Palestinian territories has only just begun.

The artist will be presenting her work at Paris’ Pompidou Center this fall and ARTINFO sat down with Jouve to discover how her work in Palestine has moved her:

Why did you decide to photograph the Palestinian autonomous territories?

Initially, I was invited to do a project on Israeli territory, and I crossed the green line to discover, to my astonishment, a country that has not succeeded in being recognized but which I identified as such, with its own culture, its history, and its people. So I decided to work on both countries, Israel and Palestine, separately. My images of Israel will be shown later -- they are part of a group project.

You don't show the conflict.

That's right. In this project, many elements echo the approach that I constructed from the beginning, specifically finding zones that escape social control or even the control of power structures. The names of some images, such as "Characters," contrast with other realities, such as "Facades," for example. The power of the other is felt in the folds of Palestinian society. I don't need to show the conflict, I prefer to focus on the proud resistance of a people.

What have you learned from this experience?

I absolutely must continue so that I can go further, because I'm not only exploring Palestine but, through it, an entirely new logic of the world that we see arriving in the West. I have the feeling sometimes that this is a valid field of socio-political experimentation that is usable for our western world. Because it's really the West that came to settle in the Middle East. By showing the specific nature of a place, I am trying -- as I always do -- to emphasize its universal quality. The world is round and we're not as separated as some would have us believe. I also came to seek a story of colonization. In France, we experienced terrible times but we have a hard time shedding light on that history. While the Algerian War was violent for the French, I think that for the Algerians the colonial period was much more serious, and more unjust.

Your photos show the city and its people on a human scale and they are arranged in the exhibition space according to the angle that you chose at the moment of the shot. Why?

As always, I approached this exhibition wanting to make the images talk and to let them inhabit the space. The goal is not to present my new work but to lead the viewer to question our world and his or her own place in it. So the space is inhabited by a special kind of energy. It bathes and surrounds the viewer who can temporarily make it his or her own.

Why did you call the exhibition "En Attente," or "Waiting"?

It took a long time to choose the title. I really didn't want it to be something fixed or something that would explain too much. I think that it was Quentin Bajac who suggested "En Attente" while we were discussing plans for the exhibition. I thought it was perfect, because on the one hand it goes with a project that is starting -- this exhibition is not the end-result of my work in Palestine, because it's just begun -- and that will have more to follow. On the other hand, it also describes the situation of this territory, which is precarious and waiting for a viable solution.

Above: Jouve's photography focuses on the everyday lives of Palestinians. [WikiMedia]