Ahlam Shibli

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Ahlam Shibli
Born 1970
Occupation Artist, Photographer

Ahlam Shibli (Arabic: أحلام شبلي‎‎, born 1970) is a Palestinian photographer.[1][2][3] Her work explores themes of home and belonging and documents the life of the Palestinian in villages unrecognized by Israel in the Negev and northern Galilee regions.[2][4]


Shibli was born in Palestine.[1][5][6] The catalog for an exhibition she held in Italy stated that she defines herself as a "Palestinian from Israel."[7] At her "Goter" exhibit at the Tel Aviv Museum, the museum agreed to define Shibli as an "Israeli Palestinian" in the monthly notice of exhibitions, but refused to include this description in the exhibit catalog. Traditionally, Israel's art scene has tended to blur the identity of Palestinian artists in Israel under the label "Israeli Arabs", though it has begun to include "Palestine" in some form, within limits.[7]

Artistic career[edit]

Her artistic medium is photography.[8] Her work explores the life of what she describes as "her people," [9] Palestinians of Bedouin descent in Israel.[10] Adrian Searle describes her photographs as "unsentimental and undramatic...extremely moving."[1] In 2005, she photographed Israeli-Arab soldiers[11] who volunteer for military service in the Israeli Defense Forces Tracker Unit.[12]

She has also photographed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in London, Zurich, Barcelona and Tel Aviv; foreigner caregivers and the elderly in Barcelona; and children in orphanages in Poland.[13]

Shibli was chosen as the first Artist-in-Residence for the city of Acre in a program sponsored by that city in conjunction with Israel's Culture and Sport Ministry. Her work, "Five Senses," was exhibited at the 2002 Acco Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre.

She has participated in the 27th São Paulo Biennial (2006/7)[14] and documenta 12 (2008).[15]


In 2003, Shibli won the 9th Nathan Gottesdiener Israeli Art Prize.[16]


Solo Exhibitions[edit]

Ahlam Shibli's photo works are a complex testimony to the presence and absence of a home. Using documentary procedures, Shibli has developed a body of work eschewing the objectivity associated to photojournalism. Rather than visual evidence her photographic practice involves a conversational engagement with the subjects. Each series encapsulates the knowledge obtained through an empirical contact with colonialism and conflict, while eluding climax and drama often deployed by media representations.[17]

Series such as Goter (2002–03), Arab al-Sbaih (2007) and The Valley (2007–08) are informed by a topographic character. Shibli's views of landscapes, towns, precarious settlements, interiors and exteriors as well as cemeteries exhibit an accumulation of signs that reveal the effects of the Israeli rule over Palestine. An outstanding example of this complex narrative is Trackers (2005), a series of photographs concerned with young Palestinian men who decide to enrol in the Israeli army. In the artist's own words, the project investigates the price paid by a colonized minority to a majority of colonizers, so they can be accepted, change their identity, survive, or perhaps all of this and more.[17]

More recent works such as Trauma (2008–09) have confronted the ambiguous nature of colonialism and occupation and the relentless search for the meanings of home. Starting with commemorations of the atrocious massacre at Tulle that took place on 9 July 1944, Shibli reflects on the paradox of a population that resisted the German occupation, only to embark a few years later on a colonial war in Indochina and Algeria. Series such as this, or the one dedicated to the daily life in Polish orphanages, Dom Dziecka. The house starves when you are away (2008), or Eastern LGBT (2006), in which Shibli documents the lives of transsexual communities, extend her modus operandi beyond the Palestinian issue.[17]

In the series Death (2011–12), a pivotal work in this exhibition, Shibli explores some of the ways in which the absent ones are present again – 're-presented': Palestinian fighters who fell in the course of their armed resistance against an Israeli incursion, victims of the Israeli military killed under different circumstances (Shahid), men and women who exploded themselves to assassin Israelis (Istishhadi), or the prisoners who in very global terms might be considered failed martyrs.[17]

The numerous representations of martyrs are the visual motif that allows Shibli to reveal how the Palestinian community structures the public and domestic sphere around these absent figures and their death. Often reduced to iconic reproductions that flatten bodies and faces in the name of national identity politics, the compulsive proliferation of memorials bears testimony to the phantomatic nature of home.[17]






  • Unrecognised, al Matal Cultural Center, Ramallah; Heinrich Böll Foundation, Tel Aviv [cat.]


  • Wadi Salib in Nine Volumes, French Cultural Center, Ramallah; Heinrich Böll Foundation, Tel Aviv [cat.]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Adrian Searle (7 October 2003). "What lies beneath". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  2. ^ a b Photography Between Poetry and Politics: The Critical Position of the Photographic Medium in Art, Hilde Van Gelder, Helen Westgeestref, pp. xiv, 123-124.
  3. ^ When Art Imitates Life, Haaretz
  4. ^ Dateline: Israel: New Photography and Video Art, Susan Tumarkin Goodman, Andy Grundberg, Nissan Perez, p. 28.
  5. ^ "Ahlam Shibli". Séminaire Des territoires. 5 December 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  6. ^ Rachel Aspden (10 July 2006). "Between the lines". Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  7. ^ a b No longer given the brush-off, Haaretz
  8. ^ "Index of Artists:Ahlam Shibli - Biography". Universes in Universe: World of Art. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  9. ^ Dateline : Israel: New Photography and Video Art, Susan Tumarkin Goodman, Andy Grundberg, Nissan Perez
  10. ^ Recognizing the unrecognized Archived 2012-05-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Between the Lines, Jerusalem Post
  12. ^ http://www.hausderkunst.de/?id=83&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=2387 Hausderkunst: Ahlam Shibli]
  13. ^ A rock and a hard place: Ahlam Shibli
  14. ^ Christian Rattemeyer (February 2007). "27th Sao Paulo Bienal: Sao Paulo". ArtForum. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  15. ^ "Documenta Kassel 16/06 -23/09 2007". documenta12.de. Retrieved 2008-03-24. 
  16. ^ Recognizing the Unrecognized: The Photographs of Ahlam Shibli
  17. ^ a b c d e Ahlam Shibli. Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Nov 14th, 2012.
  18. ^ Isla Leaver-Yap (12 February 2007). "Everyday war". Retrieved 2008-03-25. 

External links[edit]