In recent years contentions over the migrations of the displaced and the travel of ideas and lifestyles that come with their movement have transcended the physical geography of borders. In Europe, and especially Germany, this has provoked capricious and polarizing existential debates over conceptions of history, citizenship and rights and the degree to which social and cultural diversity should be accepted in the name of liberal democracy and freedom. This tension is increasingly reflected in the publicly funded fields of art, culture and education. In this paper, I am particularly concerned with how, when and why such imaginaries of a threatened sovereignty manifest when it comes to Palestinian cultural production. I ask what art curated about Palestinian memory in particular can tell us about the mechanisms by which Palestinians and their cultural production are rendered invisible in German memory, identity and indeed consciousness. By honing in on the aesthetics, representations and discussions in Germany and in Palestine around one art object, the Palestinian Key of Return, exhibited at the Berlin Biennial of 2012, I center Palestine in larger scholarly debates that interrogate not only the exhibition of “well-intentioned” collective art processes, but also the question of what contemporary art festivals in western capitals do and don’t do for an emancipatory politics of shared anti-colonial solidarities, and why that matters for our understanding of what a truly decolonized form of radical democracy may look like.
Hanan Toukan is Associate Professor of Middle East Studies at Bard College Berlin. Her teaching and writings sit at the intersection of international politics, Middle Eastern studies, political theory, contemporary art theory, postcolonial studies, decolonial theory, critical race theory, visual cultures and cultural studies. Her research is concerned with the political and social roles art and cultural institutions play in our lives; cultural diplomacy and art; art and exhibitionary practices; museums, migration and the movement of objects; and the politics of knowledge production about artistic and cultural practices in and about the memories, histories and ecologies of global majority contexts. She is a recipient of several research awards including most recently from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for her current research project on the cultural politics, global solidarities and aesthetics of art about Palestine in Europe and the Middle East. Her book, The Politics of Art: Dissent and Cultural Diplomacy in Palestine Lebanon and Jordan (2021) is published with Stanford University Press. Toukan’s work has been published in Cultural Politics, Arab Studies Journal, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Radical Philosophy, Journal of Visual Culture, Journal for Palestine Studies, Review of Middle East Studies, Jerusalem Quarterly, SCTIW Review, Jadaliyya and Ibraaz, amongst others. She has published chapters in Leila Farsakh (ed.), Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self-Determination and Decolonization Beyond Statehood (University of California Press, 2021); Viola Shafik (ed), Documentary Filmmaking in the Middle East and North Africa (Cairo University Press, 2021); Friederike Pannewick and Georges Khalil (eds.), Commitment and Beyond: Locating the Political in Arabic Literature since the 1940s (Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2015); and Dina Matar and Zahera Harb (eds.), Narrating Conflict in the Middle East: Discourse, Image and Communication Practices in Lebanon and Palestine (IB Tauris, 2013). She serves as an editorial member of the Journal of Visual Culture collective and as a contributing editor at Jersulaem Quarterly. Hanan Toukan was a EUME Fellow in 2012-13 and returned as EUME-CNMS Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2019-23.
Refqa Abu-Remaileh is a Professor of Modern Arabic Literature and Film at the Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies Freie Universität. She is the Principal Investigator of the ERC project PalREAD – Country of Words: Reading and Reception of Palestinian Literature from 1948 to the Present (2018-23). She received her DPhil (PhD) and Masters in Oriental Studies and Modern Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Oxford (2010, 2004), and her BA in English Literature from the University of British Columbia (2002). In 2012-13, she was a EUME Fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin. From 2014-16, she was an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral Fellow affiliated with EUME and continues to be affiliated with EUME to the present. She has also worked with the London-based charity Oxford Research Group as a consultant on their Palestine-Israel projects.