Traces (2017)

Traces is a supplemental project to my anthropological fieldwork in Jerusalem with the Dom Romani community in the city. These photos represent, artistically as much as anthropologically, traces of a Dom past, once based around peripatetic movement and twent-dwelling, in the built and unbuilt environments of contemporary Jerusalem. I use diptychs to show the al-Sawana valley, a still largely undeveloped green area just outside Jerusalem’s historic center, where Dom caravans were camped until the 1950s, before permanent settlement, alongside present Dom neighborhoods. Two frames thus show a past and a present. But the past and present are incomplete in that the memory of a past wilderness is increasingly domesticated, while the domestication of a sedentary present is prone to the wilderness of economic insecurity, war, panoptical surveillance, fear of expulsion by Israeli military, etc. I recall here essayist Rajah Shehadeh’s beautiful contemplation of this entanglement of a memory of a pre-Israeli past with the present dystopia of the Israel/Palestine conflict. In his book Palestinian Walks, Shehadeh pairs his idyllic memory of the wild Palestinian landscape of his childhood with the creeping industrialization and urbanization projects that have accompanied the advent of Israel. What traces persist of this past in the present? Was the memory ever real?