At Mariola’s urging, I went to the Guggenheim to catch Emily Jacir’s dual exhibits Material for a Film (performance) and Material for a Film (2004-). The two are based on the October 1972 assassination of Palestinian intellectual Wael Zuaiter by the Mossad, who believed he was the head of the Rome branch of Black September. Many of us will recognize Black September as the terrorist group responsible for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes during the Summer Olympics in Munich.
Jacir’s work portrays Zuaiter as a peaceful intellect, who memorized large sections of the Divine Comedy, obsessed over Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, ran in the same circles as Italian writer Alberto Moravia, had a bit part in the Peter Sellers version of The Pink Panther and dreamt of translating One Thousand and One Nights from Arabic to Italian. It was that very book that Zuaiter carried with him on the night of his murder. In fact, the book took the 13th of 13 bullets, and that image becomes the symbolic centerpiece of Jacir’s exhibit.
In one work, Jacir photographs each page of the wounded copy of One Thousand and One Nights to show the remnants of the bullet’s violent work — some are ripped, some are punctured, some are just slightly maimed. In another, Jacir creates a “haunting mausoleum” of 1,000 blank, stark-white books — each one adorned with a bullet hole made by Jacir herself with a .22 caliber pistol, the same model that killed Zuaiter. She calls the process “grueling” and the work itself a “memorial to untold stories.” The rest of the exhibit is a scrapbook of Zuaiter’s life in Rome, except for the small photograph of him lying in a pool of blood in his apartment building on the night of his murder.
Jacir clearly believes in Zuaiter’s innocence. The Museum curator is perhaps not so sure. In her intro to the exhibit, Joan Young, associate curator of Contemporary Art and manager of Curatorial Affairs at the Guggenheim, makes it a point to say that Zuaiter was never “conclusively linked” to Black September. The words stick out like a sore thumb.
Most interesting to me, a Jacir novice, is the way she combines historical facts, eyewitness testimony, multimedia evidence (news clippings, video, taped phone conversations, music, photographs, postcards, letters, books and even telegrams) art and poetry to paint a portrait of a man’s life. Whether or not it is a complete portrait, I do not know. The exhibit briefly mentions that Zuaiter destroyed his poems and everything he had ever written shortly before his death. I am curious as to why.
Posted by: Mariela