When Nature Becomes Ideology: The Rural Landscape of Palestine after 1947
Avinoam Shalem is the Riggio Professor of the arts of Islam at the Columbia University in the city of New York and the incoming director of the American Academy in Rome. Prior to this appointment, Shalem held the professorship of the history of the arts of Islam at the University of Munich and taught in different universities in Europe, Asia and North America. His main field of interest is the global context of the visual cultures of the world of Islam, mainly in the Mediterranean, Near East, North Africa, Spain, South Italy and Sicily, medieval aesthetic thoughts on visual arts and craftsmanship, the image of 'Islamic' art and the historiography of the field.
Cities, villages and other forms of human settlement, like works of art, are in constant flux, a process of shaping and reshaping, of being erased, demolished, newly designed, renovated and preserved. Like a painted canvas, urban and rural landscapes accumulate and display through their particular structures histories of human interventions and acts. The modern era and especially the age of European colonialism and regional nationalism have brought specific agendas for the restructuring of the rural landscape of the Levant. Moreover, this era resulted in the exodus, relocation, migration and expulsion of people. The destruction of cities, villages and other rural settlements and, more importantly, the desire to eradicate specific histories of these sites from the collective national memory, namely the condemnation of memory, are at the focus of this research project. Palestine and the present state of Israel offer a large amount of historical evidence that shed new light on histories of forgetfulness. This study aspires to recover histories from tangible surfaces on the ground, all of which keep memories of traumas and recoveries. Yet, history is not the ultimate aim or the framed structure, into which facts are set in a particular order to suggest narratives, but is rather the vague background, at the foreground of which visions and sights, stones and wild plants, and even animals tell stories that can be woven into the great cognitive picture we usually call the past.