Emily Jacir's Bethlehem family home lies just feet from the controversial barrier wall constructed in the Palestinian territories in 2004. Built in 1890 by her great-great-grandfather, the house has borne witness to some pivotal moments in the city's history – and in the region's conflict.
“Bethlehem has suffered a lot and is living under extremely harsh conditions – we have the highest unemployment rate in the West Bank,” says Jacir. “Education and research are the key pillars behind our project. We plan on holding workshops which facilitate the circulation of creative and intellectual endeavors across a range of disciplines and media.”
To this end, what was once home to several generations of the Jacir family is now being transformed into the Dar Yusuf Nasri Jacir for Art and Research, an independent exhibition space and community art center focusing on visual art and cinema. "We hope to provide a setting within which students pursuing art practice, as well as various communities in the Bethlehem area, and the rest of the Palestinian territories engage in ongoing debates that examine the historical, social, and intellectual conditions of artistic production today in Palestine."
The past and the present
Besides hosting exhibitions, workshops, screenings, and meetings, the center will also run a residency program and provide a home for the Jacir Ottoman archives, a rare collection of photos and texts from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries documenting Bethlehem's experiences during the Ottoman period. "It is a rare treasure to have 100 years of archival material located in Bethlehem in the West Bank, on the very site where it was produced and gathered," says Jacir. "We expect to host scholars in Ottoman studies from around the world – in addition to artists, intellectuals, musicians, and filmmakers."
A successful fundraising campaign, supported by Art Basel's Crowdfunding Initiative, helped to make this project a reality, while also allowing the center to maintain its independence. "We see ourselves as a visionary grassroots center, with incredible international links and exchanges," Jacir explains. "This will be a learning hub for the Bethlehem community and beyond - a place to ask questions, exchange ideas, and grapple with our contemporary situation."
With renovation works nearing completion, the center could open its doors as soon as early 2018. "It's been a long road!" Jacir admits. "But I cannot stress enough the importance of a center like this in our area. I envision our historic building as a place in which history and the contemporary conditions of Bethlehem will meet, thereby enabling the production of new works of art – and a vision towards the future."
Emily Jacir is an artist and filmmaker, and one of the Arab world's leading contemporary artists. She has exhibited her work across the globe and received several honors for her achievements, including a Golden Lion at the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007); a Prince Claus Award (2007); the Hugo Boss Prize (2008); and the Herb Alpert Award (2011). She is represented by Alexander and Bonin Gallery in New York City and Alberto Peola in Torino, Italy.