For most of the Arab world ‘concrete’ is still perceived to be a material of growth and stability, yet in Gaza it is instrumentalized into a weapon of segregation and suffocation. Vertical architecture in Gaza is growing at such a pace that Palestinians are now recycling the concrete from their destroyed homes; reprocessing smashed histories to form a more ‘suitable’ narrative, shifting from pain to apathy, and all the while reinforcing the haphazard concrete jungle of oppression. Hazem Harb’s studio acts as a time capsule for Palestinian memory, a Pandora’s box of images, archives, and official documents that suggest a nominal representation of Gaza’s numbed and silenced memory. Mouaqat, in this respect, is a temporary research studio that offers a different historical perspective, one that is both abstracting and reducing aesthetics in an attempt to raise questions of experience and memory, authenticity and authorship, and,
ultimately of how history can be narrated.
In an environment where concrete is systematically poured to erase and neutralise history, Harb’s photographic collages are transformed from their base aesthetic proposition and converted into historical documents, building a case for ‘contextual’ architecture. This effectively involves the subordination of urban space to its spatial, cultural, and economic setting. The scarcity of quality construction materials, combined with the uncertainty of planning permissions, continues to result in homes and shelters turning into self-built life-threatening structures, awaiting imminent collapse.
Through its choice of building materials, Mouaqat further explores how architecture can physically manipulate a whole population into a state of near complete, desperate dependency; rendering communities into captive markets for surplus Israeli consumer goods. Much like prison inmates that barter for access to the menial goods that make their way into an otherwise highly controlled environment, the local Gazan populace is drip-fed goods through a controlled system — rendering exchange a commercial opportunity for further exploitation. In these contexts, and in the absence of any other dialogue, Mouaqat highlights the only regular ‘conversation’ that the oppressed and the oppressor maintain.
If Mouaqat has a deliberate and obvious failing, it is the ability to, albeit for a brief moment, experience Gaza without experiencing the impossible journey to Gaza. The walk through the studio fails to convey the strenuous difficulty of crossing a seemingly short 33km distance from Rafah to Gaza, a border that is often arbitrarily closed, leaving travellers stranded for hours if not days. The notion of time, en route to Gaza, is reduced to infinity, where people are left suspended by the whims of indiscriminate closure and the promise of checkpoints about to open. Such acts highlight, as Harb observes, the discriminaton faced by Gazans attempting to journey home. If Mouaqat manages to ease one part of your visit to Gaza, it does so symbolically: you are confronted with a quick visit to the world’s most densely populated, poorly constructed, and heavily surveilled city; a space that that is propped up only by the spirit of an unyielding people who populate the city with wedding after wedding, home celebration after home celebration, street sport after street sport, and, a people who, ultimately, make the most out of this multipurpose city prison.
Lina Lazaar, 2018