Art show tells global tales of dispossession and exile

An art exhibition currently showing in London – but with plans to tour the world until 2018 – brings together the work of 39 contemporary artists to delve into experiences of Palestinians, Native Americans and Irish in exile.

The Map is Not the Territory was originally launched in 2013 and consists of art which raises uncomfortable questions about the colonial records of Israel, the US and Britain. Indeed, much of the work was created by artists from the three peoples whose histories are highlighted in the show.

As the exhibition website puts it, The Map is Not the Territory aims to “confront history, investigate personal and political dialogue, and reflect the multiple truths in [philosopher Alfred] Korzybski’s dictum that ‘the map is not the territory.’”

The diverse artworks, which range across the genres, include original paintings, photographs, prints, drawings, artist books and films.

They are grouped into a number of themes, including Conflict/Resistance, Occupation/Wall and Home/Diaspora.

The last of these, for instance, features work by Palestinian-American photographer Najib Joe Hakim, in which images of passports and of dispossessed individuals remind viewers of the shared experience of forced displacement that unites the three peoples.

Perspectives on colonialism

Other Palestinian contributors include well-known names John Halaka, Rula Halawani and painter Hani Zurob.

Alongside them are artists with other experiences of and perspectives on conflict and colonialism, such as high-profile Lebanese painter Helen Zughaib, Obishikokaang Anishinabe First Nation multimedia artist Scott Benesiinaabandan and Irish photographer Michele Horrigan.

Benesiinaabandan and Hakim’s work also highlights the opportunity posed by the exhibition for artists from one displaced or dispossessed people to consider the experiences of those from comparable groups.

So among Hakim’s work we find portraits of Native Americans alongside Palestinians, while Benesiinaabandan’s contributions include a number of works engaging with contemporary Irish politics.

As such, the exhibition acts as a strong reminder of the multiple ways in which Western colonialism has wreaked havoc in the lives of indigenous peoples from around the world – and continues to do so today.

The Map is Not the Territory will be showing at P21 Gallery in London until 25 July. Other confirmed exhibitions include Massachusetts (September-December 2015) and the Arab American National Museum (January-May 2016).


Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.