Mahasen Nasser-Eldin, Palestinian Film maker: “How do we create representations of history that resonate with life today?”

The blog for the month of March is focused on the Arts of Palestine.  This week we are honored to have as our guest contributor, Palestinian filmmaker Mahasen Nasser-Eldin.

Is history actually relevant? If so, how do we create representations of history that resonate with life today? How can we create cultural productions to further our understanding of subaltern histories and present realities?

As a filmmaker and researcher living and working in Palestine these are some of the questions that have been guiding my work. Moreover, my teaching experience in the fields of cultural studies and filmmaking made me realize the importance of film in seeking possibilities of renewal and connectivity with “silenced” collective historical narratives of earlier Palestinian generations. In my current film titled We Carve Words in the Earth, film and feminist history bring us back to Palestine before the 1948 Nakba, to the times of the Nahda or renaissance.

We Carve Words in the Earth is a creative documentary film in pre-production and it follows stories of Palestinian feminists during early modern times. The film initiates a search in the archives for texts, images and sounds to write a narrative about women’s lives at times of political turmoil and cultural renaissance in Palestine (1920-1948). This search underlines a process of “excavation” to locate the “missing” in “dominant history”. It creates a collage from memories, personal letters, photographs, moving images, official records, news and radio archives and oral history accounts, exploring wonderful and serious opportunities to construct Palestinian women’s history through film and to explore meanings of these constructs and representations in present time.

The film takes us back to Palestine when two hundred Palestinian women converged into the city of Jerusalem in October 1929 to inaugurate a women’s movement that would fight colonial oppression and address women’s rights within Palestinian society. Among these women were writers, public organizers, educators, workers and mothers. They challenged colonial structures and negotiated local traditions. They took to the streets in protest and they lobbied and organized on local, regional and international levels.

Matiel Moghannam, one of the women organizers of this movement documents this event in her book The Arab Woman and the Palestine Problem, published in 1937 by Hyperion Press in Westport, Connecticut. She informs her reader that the 200 woman participants endorsed the cancellation of the Balfour declaration, the boycotting of Zionist products, and they protested British policy and rule against the Palestinian population. Moreover, Moghannam informs us that the women organizers formed committees for protests and to address the media and press with regards to the political conditions in the country.

The inauguration event concluded with a delegation of women sent to meet the British High Commissioner and to present him with a statement including a number of demands that highlighted the extreme and inequitable treatment of Palestinians by the British in Palestine.

The women’s delegation that met the High Commissioner in 1929. Library of Congress.

This delegation of women then rejoined the rest of the inauguration event participants on a protest of cars that paraded the streets of Jerusalem calling against British mandate policy and rule in the country. The women delivered statements to foregone embassies and emissaries in Jerusalem. Women worked within the national framework and created a movement independent of nationalist male structures.

We Carve Words in the Earth is a personal re-appropriation and interpretation of the archives (text, sound and image) weaved with cultural memory and visual and sound references. It resonates with current political and cultural contexts and deals with the challenges the subaltern undergoes in writing her-story today.

The idea of We Carve Words in the Earth stems from my previous film Restored Pictures, a documentary about Karimeh Abbud (1893-1940), the first Palestinian woman photographer. Karimeh Abbud practiced documentary photography professionally. Her photographs provide us with a rare outlook into modern Palestinian culture and life before the Nakba.

In celebration of Palestinian life this endeavor aims to highlight a Palestinian past before the Nakba with its manifestations of a rich culture and society. It joins efforts to unveil feminism(s) from the East and to deepen our understanding of cultural and political contexts and circumstances that shape women’s lives, historically and in present times.

Mahasen Nasser-Eldin is a lecturer at Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture. You can view her films through her website.


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