(This text was originally published at The International Museum of Women, February 2013)
Why do you define yourself as an artist?
Actually it is very sensitive for me when I say I am an artist, because when I look at the art history for instance Michelangelo, I question myself: who am I? Am I an artist? It is not easy for me to say I am an artist. Though, I have this feeling when people talk about my art, when I do an exhibition and others speak of me as an artist, in those moments I recognise myself as an artist.
I teach in two different universities in Palestine and in Israel, in two different languages, and the students are just starting to study and they already say “I am an artist”. So I think it is not difficult to say, “I am an artist.”
What is the role that art has in your everyday life?
I brief art. I don’t have a studio at home, but I have my sketchbook always with me everywhere I go and I am always writing my ideas. I am always talking about art, through which, with Palestine occupied, we can express our problems through art.
Do you consider yourself a “feminist”?
When I am with other artists, we always talk about feminism. For me there are so many things to talk about before talking about feminism. The right of a woman of being considered a human came before feminism in my opinion. This is the concept I am dealing with. I am talking about women that cannot study or work, because their families are really poor. I am talking about something that is normal in other parts of the world, but that here is more difficult. I am talking about being. Feminism is a further step for me to talk about.
For instance, last week I went to this place and I worked with two women of 60 and 70. They didn’t have food to eat. I guess this is a priority, rather than think about feminism. There are many things to work with right now that I cannot focus on feminism. I am more concerned about the problem of being a human.
You use your image in all your work. Is that your way to interact personally with the world? Why? Is it a sort of re-appropriation of female figure?
The way I do my art it is always with me. I am in my art. I always put myself into it. I use my image. I am always performing. When I take a photograph for example I feel myself as if I am doing a performance. For me my artworks are my babies. I am art myself.
Do you think it is correct to label the art of Middle East artists as “Arab or Islamic” art? And, do you define yourself as “Arab” artist?
I am Muslim, I am Arab, I am from Palestine, but I don’t like being labelled especially as “Islamic artist” as I don’t feel I am showing Islamic art.
I can accept that I am a Middle Eastern artist, and I am happy and proud of it, but how could I be defined as an Arab artist? What does it mean? There are many Arab artists that never lived in an Arab country, but they do art. What to call them? How can you define their art as Arab? This identification is very sensitive.
What do you want to achieve or demonstrate with your art?
I am trying not to be identified with anything. I’d like to be universal and seen as any woman in the Universe. Any woman in India, in the US, so they can identify themselves with my art. I want my art to be for all women. I would like to be successful. To be good at what I do. It is not easy for me as a Palestinian artist to be teacher at the Israeli University, and to teach in Hebrew. But when the students look at me they see a Palestinian that teaches in their language and tries to reach them with their same language. This is a great success for me.
I have seen in your work that ‘virginity’ is a repeated topic, I suppose that is because it is still a taboo in your country, but why for you is it so important to talk about it?
Once I did a project that was about ‘virginity’ in Ramallah. It was a competition and when I told the jury I would talk about ‘virginity’ they told me: Are you crazy? Do you want to talk about virginity in this Country? And I answered: I am not going to do a revolution, but as a woman I feel I need to talk about it. I feel I must talk about it, because there are almost 20 women that are killed each day by their families that suspect they are no longer virgins. In all my art I try not to be “the other” in relation to the public, I always try to communicate, I want to talk, not judge, eye to eye. It is not something I want to change, I do not judge, but want only to show that they are judging not me.
It is not good to point out their mistakes as if I want to teach them, but only try through my art to talk to them and to show them another point of view. I started to deal with virginity in 1998. I conducted a huge research about this concept and I discovered that there are so many girls that die at their families hands for saying they are not virgin, but when the hospital checks the bodies they find they were virgin.
Also I met a lot of girls who lost their virginity, but before marriage do the surgery at the cost of $200.
I met a girl once who divorced the same day of her marriage, because she did not bleed, and her husband did not believe she was a virgin.
They judge whether she is a good woman or not, if she is clean and pure, if she is Tahara(h) طهارة as they say, based on her virginity. But she can buy her purity, and for only $200 she can lie to her husband forever. A woman can buy her purity for the cheap amount of $200.
What do you want to denounce in your performance “The Tree of Wishes”?
I made the dress and it is around 60 meters in diameter and the idea I want to show is that you come to me, I am the God and you make your wish. I am powerful and strong, I am in the middle, I am the God here, and I have the power of making your wish come true. So the role of the women once again, of being only related to a secondary role, here is broken. I want to perform it around the world. I did it already in 4 different Countries: the next will be in Marseilles, and the last show I would like to be in Jerusalem.
It is interesting to see the wishes in the different Countries. In some Countries, the wish of most girls is to get married; but it is very fascinating to see how the wishes change in each country. So I see the differences also in the culture of the Country in which I am hosted.
In Tunisia for example, without knowing I was Palestinian, one of the wishes was: Free Palestine!
Some people take it very seriously, some cry… In Turkey, there is a tree where people make their wishes. Also in Italy, in Rome, at Fontana di Trevi, you throw in a coin and make your wish. It is a belief and a hope.
Speaking about your performance “Dance with me”, you said: “ Women can do everything, the skeleton is alive, I am giving him his life” what do you want to symbolise with it?
I see a lot of young people that say: we cannot! There is a kind of resignation, they don’t believe in the possibility of doing. Many female artists when they get married don’t continue their careers. But I believe WE CAN, for example me: I am a mother, I am a wife, I teach in Jerusalem, I teach in Ramallah, I am also a director of an Art Centre, I do my art, I cook at home everyday, I do the cleaning… You can do everything.
Your work “Vacuum” symbolises impossibility and endlessness. I guess, it has a reference to the political situation in your country, Palestine, if so, how do you feel about it?
(The video Installation was shot in the desert between Jericho and the Dead Sea in Palestine. To create an authentic experience, 400 meters of cable was connected to a generator, so that the soundtrack and the act of cleaning were genuine. This performance aims to recall The Mith of Sisyphus, the condemnation of an absurd endless work, repeated and repeated that has to be done in order to survive in Palestine.) In all my work I usually talk about politics through my female perception, here it is really Palestine I am talking about. The desert is exactly our reality here in Palestine.
Photographer, installation and performance artist Raeda Saadeh was born in 1977 in Umm Al-Fahem, Palestine. She received her BFA and MFA from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, and spent one year as an exchange student at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She now lives and works in Jerusalem.