Acquisition: Emily Jacir at SFMOMA
Conceptualism is the Tin Man of contemporary art. It's got lots of plenty of muscular credibility, but usually it's got no heart.
Enter Emily Jacir's Where We Come From (2001-03), which was acquired in 2008 by SFMOMA. It is is the first American museum to add Where We Come From to its collection -- and it's a great example of conceptual art can make you feel.
Jacir's installation is small, it's specific, it's heartbreaking. It brings one of the world's longest-running geopolitical conflicts down to size and presents it in a way that emphasizes humanity over fears about humans and what they might do, or who they might bomb, shell or torture.
It's a pointedly simple work: Jacir used her U.S. passport to gain entrance to Palestinian lands normally difficult or impossible to reach with a Palestinian passport. Once in Palestine, she fulfilled the wishes of Palestinians who had sent her requests, acting as a kind of DJ of geopolitical wanderlust. Jacir then documented her performance of achingly simple requests: "Go to Haifa and play soccer with the first Palestinian boy you see on the street," and so on. The work features Jacir's disposable camera-style snapshots (above) along with the requests she received, printed in both English and Arabic (below).
It's contemporary art that recalls one of the grandaddies of history art: The story of the journey and the exciting experiences that it engenders has plenty of precedents. Usually they're big, dramatic paintings, such as versions of the conversion of Paul as painted by Caravaggio or Tintoretto. More recent media work by Shirin Neshat, such as Passage (2001) or Tooba (2002) is similarly big.
Jacir's piece is about two journeys: It's specifically about her on-request trips to Palestine. But because she's fulfilling the requests of people who traveled away from Palestine for one reason or another, it's about their journeys too, especially the journeys that they can't make.
Related: I'll have much more on the installation of this piece @ SFMOMA soon.
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