For six years, from 2014 to 2020, Israeli photographer and artist Iris Hassid photographed Samar, Majdoleen, Aya and Saja, both in Tel Aviv and in their hometowns (Nazareth, Kafr Kanna, and Kafr Qara), where the majority of the population is Arab. These four women are part of the new generation of Palestinian students, officially called Israeli Arabs, from the University of Tel Aviv, “a university that was built on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Sheikh Munis,” as Hassid writes in the introduction to A Place of our Own, published by the Dutch gallery and Schilt Publishing.
It was in 2014 that the photographer first met Samar Qupty (now a well-known actress), who had just graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in film and video. “I admired Samar right away, for her look, and her smart and strong opinions.” After they met, Hassid asked Samar if she could photograph her; the latter said yes on the spot and even introduced Hassid to her cousin and her friends so that they could also take part in the project as well. Samar liked the idea of such a collaboration: “It’s interesting to see how you, the Other, see us. And how we see you. That is the beginning of any solution – seeing the other side.”
At the time, Hassid’s goal wasn’t to produce a raw, documentary exposé of the young women’s day-to-day, but just to interact and share with them (especially with Samar, who was her guide, in a way), observe them, then work with them to set up photo shoots in a few select locations. At the photographer’s request, the young women would sometimes show up with several outfits. Sometimes they were photographed alone, sometimes in pairs, other times all four together in the same shot. Afterwards, they would all discuss the images taken in order to either add some or remove others, in an effort to most effectively tell the story the five of them wrote together, a story that the photographer describes as “a complex and new reality ”of her country.
Through this series, Hassid seeks to question the place of these women in both Israeli and Palestinian societies and the relationship that she, as an Israeli Jew, has with these young Palestinian women. What brings them together, what separates them, what makes them different? By posing for the photographer in the streets of Tel- Aviv, in their workplaces, in their apartments as well as with their families, the young women opened a door for Hassid, the door to a world that was unknown to her but that was nevertheless fully part of the reality of her country. Sometimes, Hassid photographed details such as the inside of a fridge or the top a fireplace, on which are photos of their friends, various objects, and DVDs. In these images, one can venture a guess as to the past, present, and future of these women.
In the book, the photographs are displayed alongside quotes that Hassid wrote down during her conversations with the young women, like this one, which perfectly sums up the complexity of their identity: when the photographer, probably embarrassed, asked Saja if she approved of one of the photographs, where the Israeli flag is on display behind her, Saja replied: “I don’t know why you keep asking me if I approve of this picture. I keep thinking: What’s wrong with the picture? Do I look strange? It’s just a flag. I’m an Arab living in Israel, and that’s the state’s flag. I just call myself an Arab from Israel, not a Palestinian Arab. I don’t relate to Israeli roots, of course, and not so much to Palestinian ones. I won’t go around with a Palestinian flag, or with an Israeli one.”
By Sabyl Ghoussoub
Born in Paris in 1988 into a Lebanese family, Sabyl Ghoussoub is a writer, columnist and curator. His second novel, Beyrouth entre parenthèses [Beirut in Parentheses] was released by Antilope editions in August 2020.
Iris Hassid, A place of our own