Ghosts of Presence/Bodies of Absence
John Halaka
21 March – 20 April 2017

The opening of the first solo exhibition “Ghosts of Presence / Bodies of Absence” by Palestinian artist John Halaka took place on Tuesday 21 March, 2017 at Gallery One in Ramallah between 6:00 and 8:00 pm. The exhibition runs until Thursday 20 April, 2017.

John presents a new series of artworks in his exhibition where he explains, “My drawings reflect on the unrelenting tension between the physical absence of Palestinians who have been exiled from their homeland, and the psychological presence of millions of those refugees who continue the struggle to return to the lands that were stolen from them.

Appearing like ghosts in unsolidified fields of dreams, the Palestinian refugees in my drawings evoke the presence of absence in a homeland that that has been cleansed of most of its indigenous sons and daughters. By visually joining the refugees with the destroyed villages, my images metaphorically reunite the displaced indigenous inhabitants with the native homeland they have been denied.”

Halaka added; “While a massive tragedy of forced displacement and economic migration is increasingly reverberating across our planet, my project invites the viewer to become a witness to forgotten survivors who have languished in exile and in the shadows of the world’s consciousness for the past seven decades.

Stripped of their identity and driven from their land by the cruelty of colonial greed, four generations of Palestinians endure as unwelcomed guests in foreign host-lands.  Connecting elder and younger generations, is an unwavering insistence to raise their children on the cultural narratives of Palestine and to nurture them on the vision of returning to and rebuilding their destroyed ancestral villages and towns.

For Palestinians in exile, as well as those living under occupation, survival is resistance. Survival is the denial of imposed colonial absence, while resistance is the assurance of ongoing indigenous presence.

Will the ghostly presence of the refugees haunt us with the steadfastness of their resistance and the dignity of their survival?  As witnesses to their forced absence from the land they belong to, will we carry them in our eyes, shelter them in our hearts, nurture them in our minds and support them in the struggle to achieve their unwavering dream of the return?”

As a visual artist working with the languages of drawing, painting, photography and documentary film, John Halaka’s artwork investigates cycles of repression and displacement, as well as the personal and political relationships between desire, denial and instability.  One of the objectives of his creative practice is to firmly place the experiences of Palestinian displacement in the international discourse on human rights, forced migration and the right of return of all indigenous refugees.

John Halaka is a Visual Artist and Professor of Visual Arts at the University of San Diego, where he has taught since 1991. He received his MFA in the Visual Arts from the University of Houston in 1983, and his B.A. in Fine Arts from the City University of New York Baccalaureate Program, with Brooklyn College as home school. Halaka’s Artwork has been exhibited and his films have been screened nationally and internationally.  John Halaka is the recipient of a Fulbright Research Fellowship that enabled him to record personal narratives from three generations of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. His fieldwork in Lebanon permitted him to develop the ongoing multi-disciplinary project titled, Portraits of Denial & Desire.  The drawings for the series Ghosts of Presence / Bodies of Absence are an outgrowth of that project.

A selection of Halaka’s paintings, drawings and photographs can be viewed on his art web site www.johnhalaka.com. Information about his film projects and archives of video interviews can be found on his film web site www.sittingcrowproductions.