Having been born in Shufhat camp and having lived there for over 30 years I have witnessed its transformation since childhood.
The camp sits on the outskirts of Jerusalem, although it is not marked on any of the road signs that lead up to it. Its population has grown drastically over the last few years and it is estimated that there are now 35,000 people. The geography of the camp is always in a state of transformation and flux, part of which can be seen in the unstable concrete structures that are continually being built to accommodate the growing refugee population and people’s aspirations for a home.
My work explores the nature of the space, in particular the accumulative and chaotic nature of the space of the camp. It looks at the experience of claustrophobia and containment within the camp environment via the architectural formations, which speak of the presence of generations of refugees.
The challenges of making the work are part of the project itself, and stem from attempting to document the transformation of the refugee camp from a variety of viewpoints, which underscore the accumulative architectural formation of the camp. Logistically photographing the narrow streets of the camp is not easy, however, being from the camp gives me access to its intimate alleyways and rooftops that are off limits to outsiders. These streets have many names, names known only to those who live in the camp. Some neighbourhoods have more than one name depending on different generations, and the different families that have lived there and this is all part of my interest in documenting the passage of time in marginalized communities, whose history is unheard.
My interest has also been in exploring the views from the other side; from the neighbouring Israeli settlement that overlooks the camp. My memories of the place of this settlement are of open hills, where I used to play as a child, but now I am no longer permitted to enter. My aim in focusing on the geography of the camp is to represent the passage of time without portraying the camp and its population as victims, which is a very common stereotype.
Jawad Al Malhi
Excerpted from Provisions, Book 1, catalogue for the 9th Sharjah Biennial