Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland


by Valentina Bonizzi

Notes from WE+MUSEUM= To Dream a Vision or to Vision a Dream, by Valentina Bonizzi and Driant Zeneli at Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Palestine, in partnership with Campus in Camps and ALAgroup (Accademia Libera delle Arti), Rome. Sponsored by Creative Scotland

How can we think of our presence in the museum? How do we relate to the importance that is given to specific artefacts, objects, narratives that are curated and archived in order to become part of our historical narrative? Are we responsible for them or do we feel we could quantify the value of the relationship they have with us?

In Palestine the essential notion of the transmission of history and its preservation is put at stake by a military occupation still lasting after more then half of a century. To think of the original meaning of transmission and preservation must start with a decolonisation of a western perspective in this concern. In the West Bank, refugee camps exist since the beginning of the conflict (1948), and are places embedding the parallel notions of ‘exclusion’ together with a strong sense of community. Knowledge there takes shape by going beyond educational structures. The essential spaces of knowledge are often without walls, cataloged archives or open calls. They do not have a fixed based, nor they are nomad: they can be found at any place, in any time.

What you are about to read is a selection of notes that were taken during the time of two months, in the form of a diary.

From the balcony…

…reflections before starting…

It’s early in the morning and it is a clear day after a period of clouds. We can see Jordan from our balcony and we can imagine the Dead Sea in the middle. Clearness does not have the same meaning everywhere. Here, to be able to see the landscape is like approaching doubt. The questions that come to mind are many but they probably end up in the same temporal line: how long will it last? The other day Israel has crowned ‘Miss trans’ in Tel Aviv’: the hybrid coexisting with the apartheid.

How do we work artistically here if the visible looks more like a dream state compared to the invisible?

In the society of the future history will be written through dynamic and participative educational processes. Individual stories of everyday life will be central for cartographic practices and museums will be an open and live quest made by the people towards the ruling powers.

These are elements that we would like to share and develop with the participants of Campus in Camps in dialogue with ALA group in Rome.

Taking as an inspiration the recent opening of the Palestinian Museum which opened without an exhibition on the 18th of May 2016, we want to work on the concept of history, knowledge making and individual desires, in order to intervene in the spaces of the museum by deciding collectively how to bring in our dialogues, visions and perhaps, failures.

Our participants are between 19 and 30 years old, they are men and women, some with a more or less clear goal in their lives. When they say where they are from they mention first the village from where the parents and grandparents were sent away from, and then the name of the refugee camp where they were born and grew up.


From the desert…

img-3-wemuseum-courtesi-valentina-bonizzi-and-driant-zeneli-palestina-2016Today we decided to meet at 1pm, at 3 we will join our participants to a walking trip in the desert. We will be walking a dozen of kilometres to reach the Dead Sea at the time of sunset. 

We traverse the camp until we get to the car, waiting for us. The participants are very excited and they put on very loud gipsy music. We arrive to the bedouins, where our walk will start. It is different the idea of the desert and being in the desert. When you are there, and in company, is not the desert anymore. We know that at the end of the walk there would be an amazing view of the dead sea waiting for us. One of the participants tells us that he is so excited because he has never seen the sea before, this is his first time. We sing O Bella Ciao on the way until two 4×4 pick us up and they rally to the top of the mountain.

The sound is silence, like being in a recording studio. The participants keep taking pictures, selfies.

The bedouins put on the fire, for the coffee.

In Palestine, you can drink coffee in the desert.

From Eduard Said Library…

What we find in the context of Campus is that the ‘obsession’ of the participants is to bring on a constructive dialogue that can ameliorate the living conditions of the camps where they live. We would like to explore together how their dreams and their projects can become a museum. We have been looking at the text of the Detour program of Campus in Camps, and we noted this sentence:

“The aim of this course is to challenge such perception by de-touring and re-experiencing the camp by focusing on the strengthened aspects of these spaces such as collective sites that were established by the community. This in turn provides the opportunity to portray the camp in a different way, absent from the idea of passivity and poverty but rather giving the camp its prerogative for its historic achievements.”

‘Historic achievements’ are what we are taught for being materialised in a museum. Therefore how to find a way to ‘transmit’ the historic achievements of the refugee camps? Is there in first instance a need to do so?

In the past Campus activated a discussion around the museum and it was connected to the opposition of the refugee to people’s attitude in seeing and perceiving Refugee Camps as museum.

img-7-wemuseum-courtesi-valentina-bonizzi-and-driant-zeneli-palestina-2016At the question: WHAT IS HISTORY?

We answered










‘…Such an optical imperative has, in the past, led many rationally enlightened Western researchers to view traditional societies regulated by the power of the spoken word as ‘ahistorical’, or having no history, because for these Westerners, history is typically built on and defined by written or tangible records. Such is the violence civilizations dominated by quantifiable materiality and the written word carried out in their civilizing mission. And perhaps, for this reason, memory and the archival have become an all- embracing topic among today’s researchers.’

The Image and the Void,  Trinh T Minh-ha
From Dheisheh, Aida, Azzah Refugee Camps…



IMG 16 WE+MUSEUM= courtesi Valentina Bonizzi and Driant Zeneli, Palestina 2016.png

The reflections with ALAGroup from Rome and Campus in Camps participants are revealing details in the making. Shades of behavioural meanings, lines of historical consequences, fragments of our individual desires as artists, considerations for sharing this kind of knowledge production.

From within …

From around Bethlehem Museum…


In the middle of the red dot is situated the Bethlehem Museum. The red line marks the separation wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. On the opposite side of the road from the Museum in red is written Jacir Palace, the new name for the Intercontinental Hotel. Within the blue lines is possible to see Aida and Azza Refugee Camps. The military tower control is visible at the end of the road.

At the entrance of the Museum it is possible to see a 2000 years old roman aqueduct used to bring water from Hebron to Jerusalem, which is still active and it is the reason for building the museum precisely on that point.

From the gym…

It is Ramadan and no-one is using the gym. The air is humid, hot. We can see our reflection on the mirror wall, slowly moving around the heavy machines made for the building of muscles.

IMG 20 WE+MUSEUM= courtesi Valentina Bonizzi and Driant Zeneli, Palestina 2016.JPG

We sit in a circle and place in front of us an object that we think should be part of a museum. We share the thoughts and reasons: some of the objects were our property, others stolen for a moment, others to soon become a gift.

From Bethlehem Museum …

After the immediate flattering perception that a curated museum can offer, the details started to raise evidence that our presence was not fully acknowledged in the space. Although a part of a shared history was exhibited, through ancient objects, historical photographs or other artefacts, the narrative was very focused on the catholic history of Bethlehem, and refugee camps were not at all mentioned. Through the discussing we decided to collectively initiate a silent ‘no’ to temporarily perform our presence in the museum as an essential space of knowledge.

From the Concrete Tent…

We presented the pictures, videos, thoughts of what we did together during the last two months to return our narrative.

Unexpectedly two of the participants offered us a letter, in their last sentence they wrote: ‘do not forget’.


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This entry was posted on February 2, 2017 by in Comment and tagged , , , , .
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