“Subjective Atlas of Palestine” wins prestigious Dutch award

“Colour Correction” by Yazan Khalili, detail from Subjective Atlas of Palestine.

Last year Palestinian artists, photographers and designers mapped “their” Palestine in the Subjective Atlas of Palestine. The atlas offers a picture of Palestine that differs from the images the public generally receives through the mass media. Dutch designer Annelys de Vet of the the International Academy of Arts in Palestine and the Dutch Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, joined forces with a group of Palestinian artists to realize a moving, beautiful, poetic and at times heart-breaking book. On 26 June 2008 it was awarded the best designed book of 2007, beating out 465 others. There will be an exhibition of the 33 books nominated for the award in the famous Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam.

The atlas was the product of a April 2007 a workshop of Palestinian artists held at the International Academy of Art Palestine in Ramallah. According to Khaled Hourani, Artistic Director of the Academy, the workshop fit into the Academy’s educational and academic experimental contemporary arts program. The artists from Gaza were involved through Internet and e-mail, because they were not allowed to travel to Ramallah.

Hassan Khader, a writer born in Gaza and currently living in Germany, writes in the atlas that “there is a lot of melancholy hanging in the air, a sense of black humor and even boredom. The map is formed and deformed, joyfully or sarcastically; daily life activities are cherished as precious proofs of resilience. Normalcy can be achieved in different ways, by different means. No one would stop for a moment to ask: ‘How can I normalize my life?’ The question is: ‘How can I keep time-tested means of normalcy functioning and oiled?’
Palestine as a metaphor is much more complicated and multi-layered than the one portrayed by political rhetoric. Behind every truth there is a much deeper one. The potential of Palestine as a metaphor has always been rich. The Palestinians are tired, they need a break. The energies they invest just to be like anyone else, their quest for a normal life and the hopes they nourish, are channelled into a tortured relationship with time and place.”

The jury wrote in its report, “sometimes the subject makes one already give in while assessing the book. Is there another country that appeals more to the imagination than Palestine! Not in the least because of the constant stream of poignant images we see in the media, picturing Palestinians as perpetrators or victims of violence. A tragedy that holds our collective conscience hostage since 1948. We are hardly able to imagine daily life in Palestine. This is exactly what makes this atlas special. It challenges the one-sided approach of the Western media, and at the same time it shows the current situation in Palestine.” The report of the jury concludes with, the book is “a special document that with a soft voice brings an important message.”

This sentiment was echoed by Annelys de Vet who responded to a question from the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad asking if she would produce a similar “Subjective Atlas of Israel.” She stated that “this is exactly the problem. Would I had made such an atlas of Israel, nobody would have asked if I were going to make one about Palestine.”

The authors grant permission to freely use and disseminate the material of the Subjective Atlas of Palestine, provided that the source is correctly acknowledged and the authors are informed. Already, the material has been used for posters and illustrations in magazines. The atlas can be downloaded from: www.subjectiveatlasofpalestine.info.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human advocate.