The exhibition is a major installation in which Halabi reflects upon the particular political and social condition of the Druze community living in occupied Palestine, taking individual and personal stories as a point of departure.
We No Longer Prefer Mountains begins with an ascent of Mount Carmel upon which the Druze towns of Dalyet el Carmel and Isfiya are located, drawing the viewer into a world of geographic isolation and a locale shaped by coercion and control. Living mostly in mountainous areas in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, as well as in diaspora globally, the Druze maintain close-knit social and religious ties as a minority within and across national borders.
Weaving together intimate engagements with members of the community in shared domestic spaces and outdoor environments, the installation explores how the inner politics of the Palestinian Druze have been reshaped since the establishment of Israel in 1948; whilst opening up possibilities for imagining alternative futures.
What can a camera, filming a landscape, reveal about the social and political structures of a given place at a given time? We No Longer Prefer Mountains is unscripted and through open, one-to-one exchanges often spoken directly to the camera, the installation’s protagonists share their lived experience of the policies that the State of Israel has implemented towards the Druze. The exhibition is structurally inspired by Japanese avant-garde filmmaker Masao Adachi’s idea of fukeiron – or ‘landscape theory’ – which posits that the filming of everyday landscapes can reveal the forces of oppression that underpin one’s socio-political environment. In this way, the mountain itself also becomes a protagonist of the installation, which poetically gestures towards the interdependencies between all living entities in the landscape, including flora, fauna, land, air and water where ecologies are also subject to the effects and impacts of colonial infrastructures.
Through narrations of experience across generations, the exhibition critically explores the ways in which national policies have systematically sought to reconfigure and reconstruct Druze identity; driven by the Zionist strategy of divide and rule. We hear how, in the mid 1950s, Druze leaders aligned the community within the State of Israel; however not all identified with this position, and increasingly a younger generation now contest it.
Protagonists therefore share perspectives on Druze mandatory conscription into the Israeli army; a direct result of that deal. Or how, since 1948, the annual pilgrimage route to the significant Druze shrine of Nabi Shu’ayb has been cut as it became no longer possible for Druze communities beyond Palestine/Israel to cross borders from Syria, Lebanon and beyond. Until recently, the shrine has been designated by the Israeli military as a site for swearing-in Druze men into the army, thereby transforming a key religious marker into a national one. We later hear how, in 1976, the Israeli Ministry of Education separated Druze education from Arab and a parallel curriculum was prepared; where the aim of this strategy was to erase the cultural and national identity of the Druze while constructing a new identity for them that was Israeli, rather than Arab or Palestinian. In 2018, the Israeli parliament approved the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, which enshrines Jewish supremacy over Palestinian citizens, regardless of their ethnicity. This law has further shifted the discourse within the Druze community, as it has clarified that no matter how loyal one might be to the State of Israel, they will never be equal to a Jewish citizen.
The organisation Urfud - Refuse and Your People Will Protect You relay shared lived experiences and intersectional forms of resistance amongst those who live on Mount Carmel and beyond. The installation joins them as they gather to organise from a flat in Haifa, where the camera acts at times as witness to their collaborative process towards effective structures of resistance and mutual support; and at others situates the viewer amongst the group, as if to complete a circle.
Nijmeh - a key protagonist and the mother of Maysan, who is a co-founder and active member of Urfud - opens up a central space in the film to consider how care, expressed especially through her cooking to accompany their meetings, can disrupt the policies of divide and rule adopted by the State of Israel. At the end of the film, through a final descent from Mount Carmel, both literally and metaphorically Halabi attempts to bridge a gap or disrupt the separation that has been created between the Druze and other Palestinian Arabs since 1948. The exhibition seeks to reflect upon the ways in which the colonial system – despite implementing different tools of the State in the mountain for the Druze compared to the valley in relation to the Palestinian cause -–is one and the same. By doing so, she creates space to imagine an alternative future.
We No Longer Prefer Mountains carries forward Halabi’s long-term and ongoing research into how historical and national narratives are constructed; and the impacts that overlooked and suppressed histories have on contemporary life. This is anchored around her interest in landscape and systems of power and control. The installation evokes the mountain as a main protagonist of the film, with the ascent and descent of the tiered seating structure echoing the ascent and descent of Mount Carmel which is so central to the film. The relation between sound and sight is an ongoing enquiry for Halabi, and the possibility of experiencing the sound of the film initially before seeing the projected image is important; whilst movement through the installation further reflects Halabi’s interest in ritual and processes of transmutation from one form to another.
We No Longer Prefer Mountains is generously supported by Mondriaan Fund and the The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Showroom is supported using public funding by Arts Council England.
We No Longer Prefer Mountains is part of The Consortium Commissions, an initiative of Mophradat. Every two years, Mophradat creates a network of international collaborating partner institutions that collectively select, produce and present ambitious new artworks by artists from the Arab world. The second exhibition of Inas Halabi ’s new work will be presented by de Appel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in Spring 2023.
Image credit: Inas Halabi: We No Longer Prefer Mountains, film still, 2022. Commissioned as part of The Consortium Commissions (2020-22), a project initiated by Mophradat, with The Showroom and de Appel. Courtesy of the artist.