Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti
Curated by Salwa Mikdadi and Bana Kattan

February 24 – June 9th, 2018
New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

This mid-career retrospective exhibition of works by the artists and architects Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti covers their research and art produced over the last fifteen years. The curatorial premise for Permanent Temporariness questions the state of ‘refugeeness,’ a condition meant to be temporary, but that can become a permanent state of being. The artists examine temporariness, giving agency to refugees, both Palestinians under occupation and others, through alternative modes of articulating refugeeness at a time when the voice of the refugee is easily drowned in a sea of victimhood and alienation. As a result of political and natural calamities, there are currently over 70 million forcibly displaced people around the world. At the same time, globalization resulted in the movement of large numbers of professionals and a labor force from their native ‘home’ to temporary work locations, a move that subsequently turned into a life of permanent temporariness. This condition in the Gulf countries is referred to by the novelist Deepak Unnikrishnan as ‘Temporary People,’ living in between two homes, one an unattainable dream and another an economic necessity. Living more years away from home than at home imposes conditions and initiates new realities that characterize permanent temporariness. The artists examine this condition, focusing on Palestinian refugees, and also the recent waves of refugees from other nations.

The artists’ work lies between conceptual speculation and an artistic practice that is based on spatial interventions in art, architecture, discourse, public research, and communal learning. Through research, publication, performance, video, film, photography, and interventions, the artists examine the relation between politics and architecture.

Hilal and Petti’s art practice is fundamentally collaborative. They adopted this approach early in their career, establishing a collaborative residency in 2007, along with Eyal Weizman: the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR), in Beit Sahour, Palestine. Since then hundreds of resident artists, architects and other collaborators have worked on a variety of projects that aim “… to find and utilize cracks and loopholes within existing colonial systems of separation and control [which] include built structures, infrastructure, land ownerships, and legal systems.” The Common Assembly installation in the main gallery is an example of such a project. In another interdisciplinary collaboration, The Book of Exile, an Emirati calligrapher inscribes the collected narratives of Palestinian refugees. As in the Refugee Heritage photo project, this is in conjunction with an on-going conversation that migrates between continents, from Palestine, to North and South America, Europe, and now in the UAE at NYU Abu Dhabi. Community engagement and collaboration is also at the heart of Mujawarah / The Tree School. This project is based on Campus in Camps, an ongoing, non-hierarchical learning initiative where Mujawarah is the sharing of knowledge steeped in the social, intellectual, and spiritual experience of the participants. Sharing and collaboration are key to all the artists’ projects, which in turn are related conceptually and/or in practice. For example, The Concrete Tent installation was one of the sites for Campus in Camps that led to The Tree School installation, activated internationally and now at NYUAD.

In 2016, Hilal and Petti initiated a discourse on ‘refugeeness’ as a state of being with a history and a heritage, both tangible and intangible, that should be explored, documented, interpreted, and officially inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The same proposition could apply to refugees from Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and the Rohingya or WWII European refugees.
Hilal and Petti, along with their collaborators – teams of academics, architects, heritage specialist, and refugee camp committees – prepared the UNESCO nomination dossier as a DAAR proposal to inscribe the Palestinian Dheisheh Refugee Camp, located south of Bethlehem, as a World Heritage Site. They included in the dossier the first four required support documents on Identification, Description, Justification, and Conservation. Response to the Refugee Heritage dossier and discussions on its efficacy continue to take place inside Palestinian refugee camps and internationally. A similar discussion will take place in conjunction with this exhibition at NYU Abu Dhabi.

February 25, 2018


Salwa Mikdadi, NYU Abu Dhabi
Alessandro Petti, DAAR
Jad Thabet, Former member of UNESCO World Heritage Committee
Leila Chahid, Former Palestinian Ambassador to the EU
Ilana Feldman, The George Washington University


Sandi Hilal, DAAR
Khalil Allaham, PhD Candidate Sorbonne
Zaki Aslan, ICCROM – ATHAR Sharjah
Zina Jardaneh, Palestinian Museum


February 26, 2018


Sandi Hilal, DAAR
Deepak Unnikrishnan, NYU Abu Dhabi
May Dabbagh, NYU Abu Dhabi
Nathalie Peutz, NYU Abu Dhabi


Charles Esche, Van Abbemuseum
Diana Franssen, Van Abbemuseum
Nikolaus Hirsch, Städelschule and Portikus
George Katodrytis, American University of Sharjah
Kieran Long, ArkDes, Stockholm
Salwa Mikdadi, NYU Abu Dhabi

In the Permanent Temporariness exhibition, Refugee Heritage is presented with eighteen colored photographs taken at night, documenting the Dheisheh Refugee Camp’s architecture. The alleys are devoid of people, intentionally reinforcing the archival. The visitors maneuver around the large light boxes walking a path that recalls the narrow alleys typical of refugee camps. For several generations, these alleys and the communities that surround them have contributed to the identity and memories of their residents. In one of the interviews documented by DAAR, refugees from Dheisheh Camp described it as the place where memories are made and that for Palestinians “memories are their homeland.” For others who left the camp, “living outside the camp was like living in a hotel.” Thus, for many Palestinians the temporary appearance of the camp represented “a living archive of displacement, a marker of dispossession.”

Al Madhafah is a new performance created by Sandi Hilal, based on her experience conducting fieldwork for the Public Art Agency with Syrian refugees in the city of Boden, Sweden, in November 2016. The performance is inspired by a story about a Syrian refugee couple, Yasmeen and Ibrahim, and the importance of their living room to their welfare in a refugee camp. Yasmeen and her family intend for their Syrian living room in Sweden to become a space where diverse people can gather. The act of hosting enables them to go beyond being passive guests of a refugee camp, to become active hosts. In this powerful claim to what Hilal calls “the right to host,” the living room opens the possibility for refugees like Yasmeen and Ibrahim to combine their lost life in Syria with their new life in Sweden. The performance will take place during the exhibition’s opening week, whereby Hilal (a temporary guest herself at New York University Abu Dhabi) will host invited visitors at her apartment space on campus.

At New York University Abu Dhabi Campus, The Concrete Tent, originally conceived and built in the Dheisheh refugee camp, speaks to the many long-term residents of the city of Abu Dhabi and to the transient nature of the traditional Bedouin culture of the UAE. The visitor is invited to the library of New York University Abu Dhabi to witness a scribe/calligrapher copying “The Book of Exile”, thus upholding the longheld tradition of preserving and communicating knowledge from the Arab and Islamic civilizations to the rest of the world.

In their practice Hilal and Petti have demonstrated a remarkable determination to pursue a subject that was limited to the domain of international humanitarian agencies for seventy years. Both artists are engaged with refugee camps in the occupied territories, and now with Syrian refugees in Sweden. Until recently, Hilal headed UNRWA’s camp development program while conducting research with Petti on the spatial politics of these camps. Over the last fifteen years the artists have initiated and collaborated with inhabitants of the refugee camps and others on projects that encourage multiple perspectives, an egalitarian pedagogy through sharing life experiences. They also initiated research through the DAAR Residencies, and conducted dozens of theoretical and pedagogical discourses that examine refugeeness, displacement, migration and memory. They continue to study the decolonization of the architecture of urban spaces under occupation, and civic representation and identity in the absence of a nation state.

Their speculation on these subjects, among others, engage their audiences with the process of decolonization of discourse, examining the reconceptualization of refugee camps as sites for justice and the potentiality of refugee heritage as an agent for political change.




November 30, 2017 from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
CCS Bard, Classroom 102

Al-Madafeh: The Hospitality Room

A Lecture given by Sandi Hilal, the 2016-17 Keith Haring Fellow in Art and Activism

Located between the domestic and the public sphere, Al-Madafeh is in Arabic the living room, the room dedicated to hospitality. It is that part of the private house that has the potentiality to subvert the role of guest and host and to give different political and social meaning to the act of hospitality. The living room opens itself to host the guest, the foreigner, the outsider and functions as a representational space between the domestic and the public.

In a foreign country, access to public space is a challenge for refugees as they are expected to constantly perform the role of the “perfect guest” in order to be accepted. Turning private spaces, such as the living room, into social and political arenas, is often a response to this limitation of political agency in the public realm.

In the Arab world, the living room is a space that is constantly maintained and always ready with fruit, nuts and black coffee for the unexpected guest, who may knock on the door anytime during the day. Even in refugee camps, where space is extremely scarce, the living room remains the most important part of the house. In the absence of the State, the living room represents an available social and political space regardless of the general precarious conditions. Paradoxically, it may be the room that is used the least, yet it is the most symbolic, curated and cared for area of the house.

Sandi Hilal has developed together with Alessandro Petti a research-project based artistic practice that is both theoretically ambitious and practically engaged in the struggle for justice and equality. They founded Campus in Camps, an experimental educational program hosted in Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem with the aims to overcome conventional educational structures by creating a space for critical and grounded knowledge production connected to greater transformations and the democratization of society. Camus in Camps has today offshoot in other Palestinian camps and is linked in a consortium with universities around the world. – – In 2007 with Eyal Weizman they founded DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency) in Beit Sahour, Palestine, with the aim to combine an architectural studio and an art residency able to gathered together architects, artists, activists, urbanists, film-makers, and curators to work collectively on the subjects of politics and architecture –

Hilal was the head of the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Program in the West Bank at UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) from 2008 to 2014. Hilal co-authored with Alessandro Petti and Eyal Weizman the book Architecture after Revolution (Sternberg, Berlin 2014) an invitation to rethink today’s struggles for justice and equality not only from the historical perspective of revolution, but also from that of a continued struggle for decolonization.

The Keith Haring Fellowship in Art and Activism is made possible through a five year-grant from the Keith Haring Foundation. The Keith Haring Fellowship is a cross-disciplinary, annual, visiting Fellowship for a scholar, activist, or artist to teach and conduct research at both the Center for Curatorial Studies and the Human Rights Project at Bard College. The Keith Haring Fellowship in Art and Activism was established to allow a distinguished leader in the field to investigate the role of art as a catalyst for social change, linking the two programs and presenting original research in an annual lecture.

For more information on The Keith Haring Foundation –

For more information on the Human Rights Project at Bard College –

Decolonizing North

The north is not only a geographical expression, it indicates often a power relation based on presumption of superiority. Despite violent border regimes and colonial processes on indigenous populations, northern European countries have scarcely dealt with their self-image of colonial powers. Is decolonization today a possible political project of liberation against this historical prejudice? What is at stake and how should we position ourselves within an imperative process of decolonization in relation to land and knowledge? In particular, how to de-align from the reproduction of oppressive structures and look instead to new alliances between native and migrants’ populations, and towards solidarity practices within art, discourse and immediate locality.

Addressing a range of topics in relation to contemporary colonial forms, inner-nordic colonialization of Sámi and Inuit, reflections on decolonizing terminologies, white supremacy the conference, December 7 and 8 at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm,  will be focusing on questions of decoloniality and its meaning for the particularities of North Europe today

Invited speakers: Achille Mbembe, Gurminder G. Bhambra, Gunilla Larsson, Encarnacion Guttierez-Rodriguez, Tone Olaf Nielsen, Ylva Habel, Patricia Lorenzoni and Stefan Helgesson.

Decolonizing North is initiated by Konsthall C in collaboration with the Decolonizing Architecture advance course at Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm and the CEMFOR, Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism, Uppsala University.

full program and registration

DAAR Fall 2017

Sandi Hilal awarded  “The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture” for the project of the “Living Room”. When hospitality is exclusive to the state and the public domain, then stateless people have no room for being reciprocal in the generous act of hospitality. The “Living Room” project aims to recognize the private space as an important social and political terrain for communities in exile.

DAAR awarded the 2017 Social Design Circle by the Curry Stone Design Prize.  Listen the interview with Sandi and Alessandro on the “Architecture of the Stateless Nations”

Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency


Part III Justification for Inscription (UNESCO nomination dossier) published by the journal of Humanities 2017, 6(3) humanities-06-00066

Photo: Luca Capuano with Carlo Favero



The discussion on “Refugee Heritage” continues in Kassel (Live stream available)

The Parliament of Bodies: A Century of Camps: Refugee Knowledge and Forms of Sovereignty Beyond the Nation-State
August 12 (6:30–10 pm) and August 13 (12–3 pm)
Fridericianum, Friedrichsplatz 18, Kassel

Live stream available

With: Isshaq Al-Barbary, Niklas Goldbach, Sandi Hilal, Elias Khoury, Khalil Abu Laham, Alessandro Petti, Lorenzo Pezzani, Rasha Salti, Jad Tabet, Eyal Weizman

Curated by Rasha Salti and Paul B. Preciado

This gathering of the Parliament of Bodies will explore the genealogies, epistemologies, heritage, and knowledge produced within one of the most poignant and morbid legacies of the twentieth century, namely “refugee camps.” The century’s first refugees were survivors of the genocide of the Armenian populations living in the territory that would soon become the Republic of Turkey between 1915 and 1923. The Armenian genocide marked the emergence of international humanitarian relief to survivors, the establishment of camps, triage stations in neighboring countries, and the international media documenting the horrors of their experience in reports and photographs. The refugee camp invented a political regime without political rights and a visual regime of total exposure and dispossession.

Throughout the past century, scholarship, theory, and policy have focused on citizenship and the nation state, while all other forms of community formation, economic and urban organization, as well as the fabric of social relations outside the paradigms of the state and citizenship are perceived as theoretically exceptional, pertaining to anthropology, ethnography, and humanitarian contingency. Established based on the principles of temporariness and impermanence, camps have prevailed for longer than half a century, and generations of their dwellers were born into the world carrying their identity as refugees, even if they had not themselves experienced the forced displacement that their parents or grandparents experienced. Over time, refugee camps become districts in cities, and refugees the denizens, indentured laborers, the “guest others” of a national economy. A hundred years after the Armenian genocide, the number of people who are identified as refugees has increased exponentially. Humanitarian organizations entrusted with their survival and destiny are so profoundly institutionalized that they have become normalized and commonplace, yet the perception of what camps represent remains “outside” the realms of useful knowledge, of ways of acting and being in the world.

This forum, within the Parliament of Bodies, proposes to reverse the paradigms and explore refugee camps and being a refugee in the world as central, rather than epiphenomenal, exceptional, or temporary notions. From Beirut to Calais, from Lesbos to Zaatari, we invite architects, urban planners, theorists, filmmakers, artists, writers, and activists to reflect on the knowledge accumulated and transmitted from life in the camps, the myriad histories of acting, building, resisting, and negotiating power and authority; producing community, space, and temporality. The legacy of a century of refugee camps constitutes fertile terrain to interrogate the normative paradigms of nation state and citizenship and reevaluate different cosmogonies for the organization of society, relations of authority and power, as well as production of economy, space and time.


Refugee Heritage conversations: Sari Hanafi, “Anti-Humanitarianism”

Humanitarian organizations deprive refugees of their political existence by treating them as bodies to be fed and sheltered. Humanitarian law refers to “protected people,” but current humanitarian practices either focus on “victims” or, to appear more positive, they refer to them as “survivors.” By classifying people as victims or even as survivors, the basis of humanitarian action is shifted from rights to welfare. In disaster areas—spaces of exception—values of generosity and pragmatism obscure the rights and responsibilities of refugees that would endow them with their own agency.

Read the full response here

Refugee Heritage conversations: Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, “The Coming of Heritage: Shimelba in Time” Architecture

I would like to think the Refugee Heritage proposal in relation to the Shimelba refugee camp: a constructed environment that calls into question the relationship between history and heritage from the temporal vantages of mobility and immobility and concomitant lifeworlds of going and staying. Located on the border of Eritrea some two hundred kilometers from the ruins of the city of Aksum, the seat of an ancient kingdom and a World Heritage site in the Tigray region of Ethiopia— a country that has successfully inscribed nine properties to the UNESCO World Heritage List—this camp meets none of the ten selection criteria for World Heritage. Or, thought differently, it fulfills them all.

Read the full response here

Refugee Heritage conversations: Ismae’l Sheikh Hassan, “Illusions and Wizardry”

It would not be surprising if most official and state actors would be very uncomfortable with nominating Palestinian refugee camps as world heritage site. Official Palestinian discourse insists on the definition of camps as temporary spaces that house refugees awaiting their return to Palestine. At the same time, Israelis call for their dismantling, an embarrassing reminder of the state’s role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Meanwhile, Arab nation-states have always been uncomfortable with the presence of extraterritorial spaces within their territory that host a politically mobilized and non-citizen population. While the policies of each of these official and state actors are different and often inconsistent with each other, they have all been similarly obsessed with how to control the camp. This is precisely why this nomination is so important. For it is not about making governments comfortable, nor is it about actually receiving the designation. It is about bringing the discussion back to where it should be, where it all started: Palestinian refugees and its camps. As Jean Paul Sartre claimed, “the time for illusionists and wizardry is over: either you fight or rot in the camps.”

Read the full response here

Refugee Heritage conversations: Pelin Tan, “Camps as Trans-Local Commons”

The camp is a vulnerable space. It is constituted by its thresholds and the exchanges that take place across it. It is a space of small economic initiatives and heterogenous commoning practices that subvert established concepts of heritage, urban, neighborhood and citizenship. It is thus something that should be not only physically protected but also institutionally valued. The documentation and archiving of temporary heritage, that which might not be recognized by a modernist approach to preservation, is therefore essential.

Read full response here

Refugee Heritage conversations: Ilana Feldman, “The Dheisheh Style”

Across the landscape of Palestinian displacement and throughout the seventy years of exile, refugee camps have been regular targets of state and militia violence. Israeli forces attacked the Bureij camp in Gaza in 1953, the Jenin camp in the West Bank in 2002, and destroyed the Nabatiyeh camp in Lebanon in 1974. They demolished large parts of camps in the Gaza Strip in the early 1970s. Jordanian forces engaged Palestinian guerillas in fighting in Wihdat and Jerash camps in 1970–71, causing significant damage. Syrian supported forces destroyed Tal al Zaatar camp in Beirut in 1976. Israeli supported Phalangists massacred thousands of refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut in 1982. The Lebanese army destroyed most of the Nahr el Bared camp in 2007. Nahr el Bared is being reconstructed, but many destroyed camps never were. The case made in the Refugee Heritage dossier that refugee camps are sites worthy of acknowledgment and preservation is strong. These histories of destruction confirm how many obstacles there are to their protection.

Read the full response here