Arts and Culture

What disaster creates: A Palestinian American artist investigates conflict

A photo installation lit with warm and cool colors.
Artist Lamia Abukhadra's photo installation "Not the Sunrise" is up now at Hair + Nails gallery in south Minneapolis.
Courtesy Lamia Abukhadra

In south Minneapolis, a light installation glows with photos taken in “Occupied Palestine” — in an artist’s words. Pictured are landscapes and cityscapes silhouetted against white-hot skies. 

One of these images is captioned, “In Gaza, we see the sun a hundred times.” 

But these are not images of a land touched by the sun. Rather they are photos Palestinians captured of the 2021 Israeli bombings of the Gaza Strip, says artist Lamia Abukhadra. The installation is called “Not the Sunrise.”

“While the bombings were taking place, we were seeing photos posted [on social media] quite regularly,” Abukhadra recalls. She noticed a trend in these posts: People had to clarify that the images did not depict a sunrise.

“I started thinking about what are the conditions that lead us to see a bombing of Gaza as a sunrise, or not a sunrise,” she says. 

The installation is part of Abukhadra’s solo show “The hammer seizes its actuality” up through Nov. 12 at the Hair + Nails gallery. Abukhadra is a Palestinian American born and raised in Minneapolis, who studied art at the University of Minnesota. She is now based in Beirut where she also works remotely as the art and communications director for Mizna, an Arab arts organization located in St. Paul.

For “Not the Sunrise,” Abukhadra investigated the history of explosions that have been photographed, including the 1945 Trinity nuclear tests, as many saw in the “Oppenheimer” film released this summer. 

An artist works on a photo installation.
Artist Lamia Abukhadra working on "Not the Sunrise."
Courtesy Lamia Abukhadra

“If you look into the descriptions by the scientists who did the first Trinity test, many of them talk about the sun as well, as if there was a second sun in the sky; the colors, that the light changed from red to green to purple. It felt like the end of the world,” Abukhadra says. “All of these things were also being said by people in Gaza.”

The work in “The hammer seizes the actuality” is a documentation and presentation of the daily occurrence of extreme violence for Palestinians, which is often disseminated through social media first, Abukhadra writes in her artist statement. She tells MPR that the show is in response to the 2021 uprisings in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and the Israeli response of bombing Gaza for 11 days.

“So much of my research for the work I’m doing now started with these events, which has to do with the sort of highly mediatized space that is Palestine and how power relations are present within the construction, circulation and perception of images and videos taken in Palestine,” she says. 

The work she began in 2021 has sadly been reaffirmed by the by the current Israeli campaign of bombing and mass displacement, Abukhadra says.

“Gaza was going through a disastrous time in 2021. It is going through an absolute genocide and depopulation now,” she says. “My entire practice is concerned with me as an artist, how can I trigger new forms of vision, or help myself understand the new ways of being together, or seeing together, that disaster creates?”

Abukhadra says her prime focus now is helping meet the urgent needs of Palestinian artists through Mizna, but she constantly collects images.

“I think it’s the first time we have basically a livestream genocide happening in the world. This is something that will be studied,” she says. “It is another disaster that will generate a new form of living. I don’t know what yet.”

The artist stands in front of a sheet with photographs.
Artist Lamia Abukhadra with light installation "Not the Sunrise" comprising photos taken of 2021 bombings in Palestine.
Courtesy Lamia Abukhadra
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.