Emily Jacir: Europa
30 September 2015 – 3 January 2016
Emily Jacir’s first UK survey at Whitechapel Gallery, Europa, is said to focus upon migration, resistance and change via Europe, Italy and the Mediterranean; however the work I found most poignant is based as much in Israel as it is in Italy. Material for a Film revolves around the assassination of Palestinian writer Wael Zuaiter, who was shot outside his Rome apartment building by Israeli Mossad agents in 1972. The artist has collected images, postcards, personal letters and items, and even tapped telephone calls and images of his brief cameo in The Pink Panther to reimagine parts of his life; the piece is incredibly moving, building an incredibly vivid portrait of a man who is likely to be unknown to most visitors – his death was only faintly portrayed in the media.
Built into the gallery space as its own freestanding white cube, this piece introduces a figure whose presence permeates the rest of the exhibition – problematic as the remainder of the exhibition intends to utilise characters ranging from Jacir’s mother to Amelia Earhart. In my experience, once Zuaiter – presented as the pacifist peacefully fighting for reconciliation, whose death barely even received column-space – was introduced, his story dominated, and each following piece became frivolous in comparison.
This is hardly a criticism of Jacir’s work, perhaps of the curating however; beginning an exhibition with one outstanding, provocative work and instead of releasing the viewer to ponder and question, pushing them into a series of less well-articulated discussions.