Our youth intern reviewed Jude Abu Zaineh’s In the Presence of Absence. Here’s what she had to say.

By Raida Farzat, youth intern and Teen Arts Council alumna at Art Windsor-Essex
Photography by Frank Piccolo, GXZ Design Inc.

A bright pink neon sign against a dark wall that reads In the presence of absence | في حضرة الغياب
Jude Abu Zaineh
Installation image, In the presence of absence | في حضرة الغياب
2022

I still remember the first time I saw Jude Abu Zaineh’s In the Presence of Absence exhibition — it was Wednesday, June 22, the day of our last Teen Arts Council meeting. I’d heard about the exhibition and was so excited to finally see it. When I walked in, I was greeted by the warm purple glow of the neon lights spelling out the title of the exhibition in Arabic and English — a tribute to Mahmoud Darwish’s writing. It is hard to describe the feeling of seeing my mother tongue — Arabic — bold and bright across the wall, but I remember a feeling of warmth and awe, excitement and breathlessness. There is something beautiful and joyful about seeing your language, which has been demonized for ages, displayed proudly as art.

What stole my breath next was the giant vinyl mural across the wall — a collage of historical images of Palestine alongside images of olive branches, oranges, and grape leaves. In a moment I felt like Palestine was here, present, taking up space in a place where it’s been excluded for decades. It was so moving to witness. I’m Syrian, and to grow up Syrian is to grow up loving Palestine like its lands are your second home, to live with Palestinian neighbours and friends and family members, to know that not too long ago the road between Damascus and Nablus was open to all of us. And to be a Syrian in exile is to hold the stories and experiences of Palestinian exile close and dear, to find refuge in them. As I looked closely at every part of the exhibition, my heart was full of joy and awe. How great was it that miles and miles away, across oceans, I was just as close to Palestine as I’d been when I was in Syria?

A large mural covers the gallery wall. We notice cut-out images of a cityscape, olive branches, and a pattern of circular orange slices.
Jude Abu Zaineh
لو يذكر الزيتون غارسهُ، لصار الزيت دمعاً
If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them…Their Oil would become Tears
2022
Vinyl collage
(after Mahmoud Darwish)

Hunā wa hunāk (here and there) — a cluster of Petri dishes layered with family album photographs, plants from the SWANA region, and mould — particularly spoke to me. The images reflect the experience of migration and exile; the feeling of looking back at old family photographs of your homeland, full of longing and nostalgia and yearning, yet also thriving and growing and flourishing in your new home. Bringing your culture with you and letting it blossom, just like the native plants from the SWANA region on those Petri dishes. It was such a unique experience that I could immediately recognize.

A cluster of green, yellow, and brown petri dishes features family album photographs, layered with images of food, flowers, and plants from South West Asia and North Africa. The petri dishes are installed across the gallery wall and are supported by three small nails each.
Jude Abu Zaineh
Detail of Hunā wa hunāk (here and there) | هنا و هناك
2022
Petri dishes, digital prints

Then there was of course Bithoon (this too shall pass // dreaming of Jaffa)| بتهون (حلم بيافا), a neon work resting against a beautiful image of the port city Jaffa, the artist’s mother’s hometown. In Arabic, the word bit-hoon means “this too shall pass, it will get easier, you will get through this.” It is related to the word هوين/houayen, which means “easy, doable, natural, like water flowing.” Bit-hoon. The gentle glow of the neon letters and the bright picture of Jaffa soothe and heal and promise — we will get through this. Soon, Jaffa’s shores will be untroubled again, and so will we.

A green-tinted photograph of a city on the edge of the water is framed in a large wood frame. A neon sign reading Bit-hoon (this too shall pass) is installed over the background image.
Jude Abu Zaineh
بتهون (حلم بيافا)
Bit-hoon (this too shall pass //dreaming of Jaffa)
2022
Argon in phosphor-coated glass tubes, electrodes, transformer, digital print

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Art Windsor-Essex (AWE) is a non-profit public art gallery that uses the power of art to open hearts and minds to new ideas. Change happens here.