Occupied Pleasures: video art celebrates diversity of Palestinian life

The Electronic Intifada last covered Tanya Habjouqa’s witty, intelligent, challenging photography in a review of I Exist In Some Way, an exhibition in Liverpool, England.

Her work in that show depicted male bodybuilders at a tournament in Amman, Jordan, their muscular bodies slicked with brown polish, pushing themselves to their physical limits. The tournament was dedicated to the martyrs of Israel’s then-recent Operation Cast Lead attack on Gaza five years ago.

Now, in Occupied Pleasures, a short video edited by Amber Fares and twinned with music from Stormtrap Asifeh, Habjouqa’s images are given even greater scope to display the humor and strange, stereotype-challenging juxtapositions in which she seems to delight.

In under a minute-and-a-half, we meet a niqab-wearing woman playing with lion cubs in a zoo, young women dressed to the nines, ready for a night out, tai chi and javelin-throwing, bridal gowns, skateboarders apparently suspended in mid-air, a goat apparently watching TV and — yes — more bodybuilders.

As Sara Hussein’s text accompanying the video puts it:

More than four million Palestinians live in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, where the political situation regularly intrudes upon the most mundane of moments.

Movement is circumscribed and the threat of violence often hangs overhead. This creates the strongest of desires for the smallest of pleasures, and a sharp sense of humour about the absurdities that a 65-year occupation has produced.

This is an exploration of the moments where ordinary men and women demonstrate a desire to live, not just simply survive.

With its edgy music and exuberant editing, this is a video to take a small moment out to watch, and enjoy.


Sarah Irving

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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.