Palestinian writer Suad Amiry inspires Portuguese exhibition

Joana Villaverde’s art exhibition Animals’ Nightmare, inspired by Suad Amiry’s book Nothing to Lose but Your Life.

Joana Villaverde

An exhibition of work by artist Joana Villaverde runs in the central Portuguese town of Avis until 31 May.

The show, entitled Animals’ Nightmare, was inspired by a chapter from Nothing to Lose but Your Life, Palestinian writer Suad Amiry’s account of the dangers faced by young men trying to cross from the West Bank into present-day Israel in order to find work.

In an eerily-lit room, images of tortured, fleeing creatures and humans hang on the walls, while some of the dim light comes from the headlights of a vintage car.

The images pay homage to Amiry’s vision, resonant of the darkest of fairy tales or the dystopia of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Amiry is well-known for her satirical 2005 memoir of the second intifada, Sharon and my Mother-in-Law.

In a chapter of Nothing to Lose but Your Life, the animals of the world appear before former US Vice President Al Gore to ask for justice and reparations for the human destruction of their lives and habitats.

Villaverde combines Amiry’s pointed exposé of political hypocrisy and ineffectiveness with the personal observations from a two-month artistic residency in Ramallah in summer 2014.

During that time, says Villaverde in an artist’s statement sent to The Electronic Intifada, she witnessed:

two difficult months for Palestine. More than 2,100 people died in an attack on Gaza. Because I was there, because I was so close, I saw and felt it. I experienced the harshness. The importance of solidarity. I felt the pain of turning my back. I was certain the world is a small place.

Villaverde’s statement continues by explaining that:

Animals’ Nightmare is an exhibition about Palestine. It is an exhibition about resistance. It is a project about being an artist today and resisting. In my work, I have Suad’s animals and people banging into the wall. The wall blocks them all.

Reflecting on solidarity, and on the role of the artist in political situations, Villaverde acknowledges that:

I am not a Palestinian and … I will always be looking in from the outside. Nevertheless, the further I go in my work the closer I feel. But closer doesn’t mean being inside; it means I feel closer to knowing that I will always be an outsider.

But, feeling the similarities between Palestine and her own Portuguese region of Alentejo – the Mediterranean heat and olive trees – Villaverde also reflects on her desire to bring “a little of Palestine to Portugal” and to “share a little of what is happening” through “my declaration as an artist. It is what I saw, what I felt; it is what I know how to do.”




Mention is made of the Alentejo region of Portugal, from where Joana Villaverde hails. The beating heart of the Alentejo has always been red. During the long years of the Salazar dictatorship, the people there held out in their socialist convictions, their party affiliations, their hopes for a just society. It is fitting that an artist from this region, where fascism and military rule were violently imposed, should stand today in solidarity with Palestinians. Judging by its description, her installation offers a powerful indictment of Israel's atrocious reign of terror. And author Suad Amiry's work clearly deserves wider circulation in every country currently abetting the Zionist nightmare.

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.