Permanent Temporariness in Abu Dhabi




Permanent Temporariness
Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti
February 24 – June 9th, 2018
New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
Co-curated by Salwa Mikdadi and Bana Kattan

Refugee Heritage

A series of photo light-boxes, shown for the first time at New York University Abu Dhabi, make up part of the dossier nomination of Dheisheh Refugee Camp as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In 2016, Hilal and Petti commissioned the Italian photographer Luca Capuano, the same photographer whom UNESCO had commissioned to document forty- four sites in Italy inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. He was asked to document Dheisheh Refugee Camp with the same respect, care, and search for monumentality used when photographing historical centers like Venice or Rome.  The artists start from an understanding that refugee camps are places rich with stories narrated through the urban fabric. Historically, refugee camps have been dismissed by states, non-governmental organizations and by refugee communities themselves, in fear that the recognition of these histories of exile could undermine the refugees’ right of return to their home country. For over two years the implications for Dheisheh’s UNESCO nomination were discussed by organizations and individuals, politicians and conservation experts, activists, governmental and non-governmental representatives, and proximate residents. Members of the camps expressed strong concerns that the nomination would change the status quo, in addition to undermining their legal right of return. Still, they expressed their desire to see refugee history acknowledged, and to bring the right of return discussion back to the center of the political debate. The end goal of the project is not UNESCO’s approval, but to start a needed conversation about the permanent temporariness of camps, and the connection between rights and space.  Capuano’s eighteen life-sized photos on lightboxes make up an alley-like path to mimic the encounters and blockades one discovers while walking in the camp. The artists have included one image taken in Italy from Capuano’s UNESCO project, encouraging the visitor to consider the aesthetic values as well as the similarities and differences between the informality of historical towns and refugee camps.

Refugee Heritage is a project by DAAR: Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti in collaboration with Sandy Rishmawi, Elsa Koehler, Isshaq Al Barbary, Mais Musleh. It was produced in consultation with Campus in Camps, Dheisheh Camp Popular Committee, Finiq Cultural Center, Ibdaa Cultural Center, Riwaq Center for Architectural Conservation and Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation in Bethlehem. Special thanks to the Odah and Al Sai families. The Foundation for Art Initiatives and the 5th Riwaq Biennial provided the initial support for the development of Refugee Heritage. The light-box installation is commissioned by NYU Abu Dhabi. The Refugee Heritage project was first presented in 2016 as text in e-flux’s publishing web platform 


Al Madhafah/The Living Room

Al Madhafah the living room 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. Hilal further explains the significance of the living room saying: In Arab culture, the living room is the part of the house that opens itself to guests, foreigners, or outsiders. It functions as a transitional space and a passage between the domestic and the public. The living room is always ready to host unexpected guests. It is the most ornamented section of the house, never in disorder, and often prepared with fruit, nuts, or black coffee ready to be offered to guests that might surprise the residents at any time. Notably, even in refugee camps, where space is extremely scarce, the living room remains the most important part of the house, representing a digni ed place regard- less of the precarious condition of the rest of the house. Paradoxically, it is likely to be the space that is least used yet most symbolic, curated, and taken care of. 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 a limitation of political agency in the public realm. 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.

Al Madhafah is a project by DAAR: Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti in collaboration with Yasmeen Mahmoud, Ibrahim Muhammad Haj Abdulla, and Ayat Al-Turshan. A network of various living rooms are activated in Boden, Sweden with support from the Public Art Agency Sweden, and in Stockholm by the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (AFAC), and in Fawwar Refugee Camp in the West Bank.


The Concrete Tent

This installation takes the form of the temporary refugee tent, but is solidified in concrete: it embodies the paradox of permanent temporariness. Located on the threshold of the campus border (behind the university’s East Cafeteria) it welcomes visitors and gatherings from both worlds. The artists originally conceived and built this installation in the Dheisheh refugee camp, south of Bethlehem, as a gathering space for Campus in Camps, an experimental pedagogical program that Hilal and Petti founded in 2012. Today The Concrete Tent in Dheisheh refugee camp is used by youth as a meeting point, negotiators from the camp use it for peace resolution meetings among families, social and cultural events take place there, and newlyweds have found the tent to be a good place for taking their wedding pictures. For Hilal and Petti, the re-creation of a tent made of concrete is not only an attempt to preserve the cultural and symbolic importance of this archetype for the narration of the Nakba (the expulsion of Palestinians from their communities in 1948), but is also a way to reframe the urgency of the right of return. Palestinian refugee camps, after more than seven decades of existence, are no longer made of fragile structures, they are complex urban and social environments that challenge the common notion of what constitutes a refugee camp. The Concrete Tent enables the viewer to experience this paradox of permanent temporariness and reflect upon the present political condition of exile for so many populations. At New York University Abu Dhabi, The Concrete Tent speaks to the permanent temporariness of the newfound home of our campus for our students. It is also relevant 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 Concrete Tent is a project by DAAR: Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti with architects and artists-in-residence Haneen Abo Khiran, Lucia Disluci, Nathan Witt, Dalia Abu Hashish, Lucia Maffei, Margo Van Den Berge, Eduardo Cassina, Liva Dudareva, Arne Carpentier, Nick Axel, and Jacob Burns. This project was born out from the conversations with Campus in Camps’ participants: Marwa Allaham, Qussay Abu Aker, Alaa Al Homouz, Saleh Khannah, Shadi Ramadan, Ahmad Lahham, Aysar Dawoud, Bisan Al Jaffarri, Nedaa Hamouz, Naba Al Assi, Mohammed Abu Alia, Ibrahim Jawabreh, Ayat Al Turshan, Murad Owdah, Mohamad Al Saifi, Yazan Al Jo’aidi, Hussam Al Masri, Muhammad Al Lahham, Dyala Fararja, Adam Fararja, Naseem, Zakoot, Tariq Ramadan, Bara’a Alian, Reem Ramadan, Basil Al Lahham, Tala Ramadan, Bara’a Abed Al Nabi, Wijdan Naif, Ghazal Al Masri, Dana Ramadan, Khalil Albana, and Abed Zahran. The Dheisheh edition of The Concrete Tent was supported by a grant from the Prince Claus Fund. Photo: Anna Sara for Campus in Camps


Common Assembly

The Common Assembly installation refers to the borderline that runs through a building that was originally designed to house the Palestinian Parliament. Today, the building – never completed – stands on the property of Al Quds University in Abu-Dis, a suburb of Jerusalem. The abandoned structure is a relic of the euphoria of the post-Oslo Accord (1993), which promised the establishment of a Palestinian State with the status of East Jerusalem postponed. The subsequent failure of the Oslo Accord to reach a peaceful settlement led to the second Intifada “uprising” followed by the construction of the separation wall a few meters from the building. This led to the abandonment of the Palestinian Parliament building project. Common Assembly was inspired by the discovery that the Israeli-imposed Jerusalem border line passes through the building, hence the building sits on three political zones: Israel expropriated territory, Palestinian-controlled territory, and a narrow strip the width of which is the thickness of the border line as drawn on the map. In 2011, DAAR was granted access to the building. The artists had noted how people marked the re-appropriation of the public spaces by the act of cleaning, during the Arab Spring. Inspired by this re-appropriation, the artists re-enacted history by cleaning the dust covering the border line in the parliament building. The video recording of this reenactment is on display in the gallery. Traversing the length of the gallery, Common Assembly is a reproduction of the exact width of the border line inside the Parliament building along with the bare concrete stepping platforms it crosses. Video interviews with Palestinians living in Palestine and in exile surround Common Assembly. DAAR describe these lines of colonial separations as “territorial cracks” that could potentially be inhabited and that, “it is possible to start seeing in these spaces the coming together of a community beyond the nation-state.” It is within this state of limbo or ‘permanent temporariness’ that DAAR invites the viewer to consider the potential for alternative forms of political participation and action for exiled communities. Common Assembly raises critical questions regarding the political participation of a dispersed population as well as the tradition of active engagement in the Common as Masha’ and its extraterritorial common interpretation within the refugee camps. There, the “common” is the shared history of displacement in the absence of private property. In distinction from the state-controlled private and public, for Palestinians, private ownership is constantly challenged and the collective land is owned by the occupying state.

Common Assembly is a project by DAAR: Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal, Eyal Weizman with Nicola Perugini and in collaboration with Yazeed Anani, Nishat Awan, Ghassan Bannoura, Benoit Burquel, Suzy Harris- Brandts, Runa Johannssen, Cressida Kocienski, Lejla Odobasic, Carina Ottino, Elizabeth Paden, Sameena Sitabkhan, and Amy Zion. Special thanks to Ghiath Nasser. Common Assembly was presented for the first time in 2011 at The Centre d’art in Neuchâtel, and later in 2012 at Nottingham Contemporary, and at The James Gallery, City University of New York, in 2015 The Asia Art Biennial in Taiwan, and in 2016 at BAK in Utrecht.


Mujawara/The Tree School

The Tree School or Mujawara, which means “neighbourliness,” is both an installation and a pedagogical artistic practice. It is based on the artists’ initiative for the decolonization of learning, where participants gather around the tree for experiential, communal learning. All participants contribute to learning in a non-hierarchical common space that encourages free and critical discourse among participants. Mujawara is based on the principles of Campus in Camps, an experimental university that Hilal and Petti established in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Bethlehem in 2012. The practice integrates institutionalised forms of knowledge production with the marginalised forms of knowledge that are rooted in the living experience of communities, thus, blurring the distinction between theory and practice. Based on long-term engagements, site visits, and shared research, the participants contribute to a “collective dictionary” of critical essays on key words selected by participants related to their environment and daily life in the refugee camp. Mujawara was originally initiated by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti together with Brazilian-based art collective Grupo Contrafilé as part of the 31st Biennial de São Paulo, Brazil (2015). The book placed on each seat under the tree is the product of a collaborative effort made by the Quilombola, the freed descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves, and refugee communities (the book is also presented in Arabic at NYUAD). The project draws on analogies and differences between Palestinian refugee camps and the Brazilian “quilombo,” commu- nities established by run-away slaves in 17th-century colonial Brazil, that today encompass large areas that are spaces of refuge for the disenfranchised. The collaboration initiated a South-to-South dialogue, rarely witnessed at this level. Mujawara in Brazil brought together two worlds that share concerns around social justice and equality. The dialogue that followed examined relationships between land, exile and community. Mujawara is an on-going program that continues to seek new modalities for learning. In Brazil the participants gathered around the Baobab tree (one of the world’s oldest tree brought to Brazil from Africa). For the NYU Abu Dhabi exhibition, the artists selected the Ghaf tree, an indigenous tree in the UAE, often considered the national tree of the Emirates, as a symbol for the tree of knowledge. NYUAD students will gather around the Ghaf tree to participate in this innovative community learning; sharing knowledge through personal and group experience.

Mujawara is a project by Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, and Grupo Contrafilé. The project was first exhibited in 2014, on the occasion of the 31st Biennial de São Paulo a second iteration in 2015, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, and in 2017, Sharjah Biennial Act II, Beirut. Mujawara book credits: Campus in Campus: Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Ahmad Al Lahham, Isshaq Issa Barbary, David Kostenwein, Daniela Sanjinés. Grupo Contrafilé.: Cibele Lucena, Jerusa Messina, Joana Zatz Mussi, Peetssa, Rafael Leona, with Walter Solon. With the contribution of: Arthur de Oliveira Neto, Deysi Ferreira, Eugênio Lima, Floriana Breyer, Geandre Tomazoni, Giuliana Racco, Joelson F. de Oliveira, Lia Zatz, Pedro Cesarino, Shourideh Molavi, Solange Brito Santos, TC Silva. The first iteration of Mujawara was made possible in part by the Foundation for Arts Initiatives. 


Ramallah Syndrome

Ramallah Syndrome invites the viewer to reflect on the failure of the peace agreements to create a long-term resolution for the Palestinians, as they continue to dream of a normal existence, an unattainable condition under military occupation. In this work, the artists point to the delusion of the potentiality of establishing a Palestinian sovereign state under the Israeli colonial regime, a ‘hallucination of normality.’ Ramallah Syndrome is the result of a series of informal discussions that artists had with friends and invited guests, among them curators, architects, artists, and ordinary citizens, to examine the rise of Ramallah and not Jerusalem as the de facto capital of a future Palestinian State. The debate examines the consequences of the perpetual presence of a colonial regime in Palestine accompanied by the fantasy of the possible coexistence of occupation and freedom. In the process, the debate revealed the underpinnings of the “Ramallah syndrome”: the normalization of occupation, normalization of an abnormal state of suffering, house demolitions, displacement and the confiscation of Palestinian land for the expansion of Israeli settlements. Conditions in the Palestinian territories are such that people are forced to live day-to-day. The sound installation, produced in collaboration with the artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abourahme, captured and reworked these discus- sions picking up snippets of the conversations and mixing them with ambient and electronic music. Visitors entering the dark, padded room are forced to concentrate on ten-minutes of audio, as if eavesdrop- ping on a heated conversation that is communicated to the listener in interrupted sequences highlighting several interlocutors’ speeches. This audio composition creates a multiplicity that is the nature of the debate itself. Sentences are interrupted with sound from engines of a tractor, or heart-beats mixed with music. The visitors need to concentrate in order to piece together the words to listen to the opposing opinions on the political situation, which remains relevant today for Ramallah as well as other cities. Hilal and Petti envisioned the art of conversation as a space that continues to expand indefinitely, offering the public and the participants a discourse on the ‘potentiality’ to an imposed situation.

Ramallah Syndrome was initiated by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti in collaboration with Nasser Abourahme, Yazeed Anani, Reem Fadda, Yazan Khalili, Laura Ribeiro, and Omar Jabary-Salamanca. The sound Installation is by Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Basel Abbas. Ramallah Syndrome was first commissioned by Palestine c/o Venice for the first Palestinian exhibition at the Venice Biennial (the 53rd edition, 2009), curated by Salwa Mikdadi. Different iterations of the project took place in 2009 for the Jerusalem Show and in 2010 for the Cities exhibition in Ramallah organised by the Birzeit University Museum.


The Book of Exile

The Book of Exile presents assembled stories of refugee life in Palestinian camps since the Nakba in 1948. The visitor is invited to the library of New York University Abu Dhabi to witness a scribe/calligrapher copying this book, thus upholding the long held tradition of preserving and communicating knowledge from the Arab and Islamic civilizations to the rest of the world. The texts contained in the book were authored by multiple participants, including residents of the Dheisheh, Arroub, Ayda, Beit Jebrin, and Fawwar refugee camps in occupied Palestine. The stories of exile derive from everyday experience, observations, and interactions within the refugee community. The book depicts the camp as a distinctive site of knowledge production, a source of social and political inventions, and spatial reconfigurations, in contrast to the stereotypes that have long described refugee camps as sites of poverty and repression. These stories express the vital culture that has emerged in exile in spite of the population’s suffering and deprivation. The Book of Exile also asserts the refusal of refugees to be victims of stereotypes and allows them to claim their right to make and write their history.

The Book of Exile is a project by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti with texts by Campus in Camps participants Marwa Allaham, Qussay Abu Aker, Alaa Al Homouz, Saleh Khannah, Shadi Ramadan, Ahmad Lahham, Aysar Dawoud, Bisan Al Jaffarri, Nedaa Hamouz, Naba Al Assi, Mohammed Abu Alia, Ibrahim Jawabreh, Ayat Al Turshan, Murad Owdah, and Munir Fashi. The first book was produced in 2016 on the occasion of the 6th edition of the Marrakech Biennial by the calligrapher Abdelghani Ouida, and reenacted by the Palestinian calligrapher Saher Kabi for Qalandiya International 2016. For this exhibition, the calligrapher Mohamed bin Yehya will be present in the NYUAD Library for a limited period until the book is complete.


استمع لشرح عن الأعمال الفنية من الفنانين:تراث اللاجئين 

التجمع العام 

مجاورة/مدرسة الشجرة 

متلازمة رام الله 

المضافة/غرفة المعيشة 

كتاب المنفى 

الخيمة الاسمنتية 

the national

Al Roeya

video interviews 

Al Hayat

Emarat Al Youm 

Al Ittihad

Al Bayan

Al Khaleej

Al Youm Al 7


Gulf News

Gulf Today


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.



poster_digital version-final

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”


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.

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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.”

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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.

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