Basma alSharif @ CCA, Glasgow

The Philistine by Basma alSharif is a diverse collection of work that uses fiction and active imagining to undo some of the habitual ways of speaking about past and present Palestine

Review by Adam Benmakhlouf | 06 Dec 2019
  • Basma alSharif at the CCA, Glasgow

The name of Basma alSharif's show – The Philistine – comes from the erotic, time-travelling and fantastical novella that is presented in a luxuriously cushioned reading room. In it, a sexual affair produces the protagonist Loza; she is travelling to the funeral of her biological father, whom she never met. Throughout, alSharif carefully tracks tensions within interpersonal relationships, and includes virtuosic descriptions of place and character as well as unexpected elements of fantasy and erotica. It’s a deeply sensuous telling of one family line’s experience of the 20th and 21st centuries in Palestine. 

Loza travels back in time through 1935 Palestine, then 16th and 17th century Egypt, encountering different forms of living, surviving and trading. While historical moments are alluded to in the story, they are not named or identified in a conventional way. Routine consumption of the setting or time period is thus frustrated, creating the conditions for a renewed encounter with Palestinian history that prioritises imagination of the lives and histories that might have been lost during times of violent displacement.

The other galleries’ works act as context for this first reading room. Photographic prints of historically hard-to-place architectural details and interiors are hung along the central area of the large gallery space, and on the walls are black and white images, possibly of Palestine and the surrounding areas. Each image has its double, a negative inversion that simply and effectively creates a sense of strange and enchanting irreality. In the last gallery space, a series of videos use experimental sound and visual editing to overlay, reverse and combine noises and camera footages of Palestine, often with string soundtracks that switch between droning, fast and erratic.  

Altogether, The Philistine forms a pulsing, sexual, vibrant, infinite imagining of the lives, places and worlds that are too-often lost when speaking of Palestine. 

A Philistine, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, until 15 Dec

Scroll on to read our interview with Basma alSharif on A Philistine