The Hugo Boss Prize 2008: Emily Jacir
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February 6–April 15, 2009
On November 13, 2008, Emily Jacir, who lives and works in New York and Ramallah, was awarded the seventh biennial Hugo Boss Prize, which was established in 1996 by Hugo Boss and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to recognize and support significant achievement in contemporary art. Combining the role of archivist, activist, and poet, Jacir creates poignant works of art that are at once intensely personal and deeply political. Her work often addresses the circumstances of the Palestinian community, but also highlights the general condition of exile and the negotiation of tenuous borders as she focuses on the mundane details of everyday life as well as momentous historical events.
This exhibition brings together, for the first time, two installations that address the October 1972 assassination of Palestinian intellectual Wael Zuaiter in Rome by Israeli secret service agents following the deadly kidnapping of the Israeli delegation of athletes and trainers to the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics by the Palestinian militant group Black September (to which Zuaiter was never conclusively linked). Material for a film (performance) (2006) presents a memorial to one of Zuaiter’s thwarted aspirations: the translation of the centuries-old collection of Arabic stories One Thousand and One Nights into Italian. A bullet pierced a copy of volume two of the ancient classic that Zuaiter was carrying when he was gunned down. For this installation, which was first shown at the 2006 Biennale of Sydney, Jacir photographed each page that showed vestiges of the bullet. She also learned to shoot a .22 caliber pistol—the same model used in the murder—and fired bullets into 1000 blank books, creating a haunting mausoleum that, in the artist’s words, “is a memorial to untold stories. To that which has not been translated. To stories that will never be written.” In Material for a film (2004–), which was first exhibited at the 2007 Venice Biennale, Jacir culls items from Zuaiter’s personal effects, including photographs, books, correspondence, and music, along with other ephemera to create an intimate portrait. Jacir sought out his friends and family, as well as the places Zuaiter lived and frequented, in order to present a chronicle of his life, work, and passions.
The titles of these works are derived from a chapter by filmmakers Elio Petri and Ugo Pirro of the 1979 collection of essays, poems, and memoirs For a Palestinian: A Memory of Wael Zuaiter, edited by Janet Venn-Brown. Their chapter is comprised of interviews with Zuaiter’s closest friends in Italy, from which the two authors had intended to produce a film about Zuaiter (but were unable to do so before Petri’s death in 1982). Jacir has continued the project, conducting her own interviews and research, and in Material for a film she has constructed a narrative, presented through her arresting use of material and space.
—Joan Young, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art and Manager of Curatorial Affairs