In Spring of 2018, The NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Art Gallery opened the first institutional retrospective of the artists and architects Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti. Throughout their work, the duo explores the state of “refugeeness,” a condition meant to be temporary, but that has become permanent for many populations. The exhibition featured seven installations, three of which were beyond the gallery walls. It recreated five of their signature installations to date: The Concrete Tent, Common Assembly, Ramallah Syndrome, The Book of Exile, and Mujawara / The Tree School, and two new works were commissioned: Al-Madhafah / The Living Room and Refugee Heritage.
Permanent Temporariness was guest-curated by NYUAD faculty Salwa Mikdadi, who is among the foremost historians of modern art from the Arab world. It was co-curated by Bana Kattan, who was at the time the Curator at The NYUAD Art Gallery. Bana is the newly appointed Associate Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Read the essay
[Excerpt from the exhibition essay]
This mid-career retrospective exhibition of works by the artists and architects Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti covers their research and art produced over the last fifteen years. The curatorial premise for Permanent Temporariness questions the state of ‘refugeeness,’ a condition meant to be temporary, but that can become a permanent state of being. The artists examine temporariness, giving agency to refugees, both Palestinians under occupation and others, through alternative modes of articulating refugeeness at a time when the voice of the refugee is easily drowned in a sea of victimhood and alienation. As a result of political and natural calamities, there are currently over 70 million forcibly displaced people around the world. At the same time, globalization resulted in the movement of large numbers of professionals and a labor force from their native ‘home’ to temporary work locations, a move that subsequently turned into a life of permanent temporariness. This condition in the Gulf countries is referred to by the novelist Deepak Unnikrishnan as ‘Temporary People,’ living in between two homes, one an unattainable dream and another an economic necessity. Living more years away from home than at home imposes conditions and initiates new realities that characterize permanent temporariness. The artists examine this condition, focusing on Palestinian refugees, and on the recent waves of refugees from other nations.
The artists’ work lies between conceptual speculation and an artistic practice that is based on spatial interventions in art, architecture, discourse, public research, and communal learning. Through research, publication, performance, video, film, photography, and interventions, the artists examine the relation between politics and architecture. Hilal and Petti’s art practice is fundamentally collaborative, as the work in this exhibition testifies. They adopted this approach early in their career, establishing a collaborative residency in 2007, along with Eyal Weizman: the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR), in Beit Sahour, Palestine. Since then hundreds of resident artists, architects and other collaborators have worked on a variety of projects that aim “… to find and utilize cracks and loopholes within existing colonial systems of separation and control [which] include built structures, infrastructure, land ownerships, and legal systems.” The Common Assembly installation in the main gallery is an example of such a project.
Below are the audio guides to each of the artworks in the exhibition, narrated by the artists.
Mujawara/The Tree School
Al-Madhafah/ The Living Room
The Book of Exile
The Concrete Tent
- PDF of Book Excerpt: Permanent Temporariness [262 KB]
- PDF of Exhibition Brochure: Permanent Temporariness [4.5 MB]
- PDF of The Tree School [5.9 MB]
- PDF of Youth Guide: Permanent Temporariness [4 MB]
- Campus in Camps Bibliography [322 KB]
- Reading Room Bibliography: Permanent Temporariness [203 KB]
- Press Release: Permanent Temporariness [213 KB]
- Press Release: Announcing Permanent Temporariness [1.4 MB]
Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal have been featured in numerous biennials internationally, including the Biennale di Venezia (2003-2008-2009-2013-2015), Istanbul Biennial (2009), Home Works Beirut (2010), Bienal de São Paulo (2014), the Asian Art Biennial (2015), Marrakesh Biennial (2016), and Qalandia International (2016), and museums such as The Tate, the Centre Pompidou, and the Van Abbe Museum.Read more
In the last decade, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti have developed a research and project-based artistic practice that is both theoretically ambitious and practically engaged in the struggle for justice and equality. They founded Campus in Camps, an experimental educational program hosted in Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem with the aims to overcome conventional educational structures by creating a space for critical and grounded knowledge production connected to greater transformations and the democratization of society. Camus in Camps has today offshoot in other Palestinian camps and is linked in a consortium with universities around the world. – www.campusincamps.ps – In 2007 with Eyal Weizman they founded DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency) in Beit Sahour, Palestine, with the aim to combine an architectural studio and an art residency able to gather together architects, artists, activists, urbanists, film-makers, and curators to work collectively on the subjects of politics and architecture – www.decolonizing.ps –
Their latest publication Permanent Temporariness (Art and Theory, Stockholm 2019 – PT-presentation) is a book, a catalog, and an archive that accounts for 15 years of research and experimentation, and creation that are marked by an inner tension and a visionary drive that re-thinks itself through collective engagement. Permanent Temporariness book was published in connection with their eponymous retrospective exhibition that was inaugurated at the New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery in 2018, and at the Van Abbe museum in Eindhoven in 2019.
Hilal was the head of the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Program in the West Bank at UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) from 2008 to 2014. Alessandro Petti has written on the emerging spatial order dictated by the paradigm of security and control in Archipelagos and enclaves (Bruno Mondadori, Milan 2007) and more recently Petti and Hilal co-authored with Eyal Weizman the book Architecture after Revolution (Sternberg, Berlin 2014) an invitation to rethink today’s struggles for justice and equality not only from the historical perspective of revolution, but also from that of a continued struggle for decolonization.
The participation in various international exhibitions aimed to investigate and act upon the formation of different social, political and spatial relation between people, state and territory beyond the liberal notion of citizenship. The practical implications of these conceptual and artistic interventions have been tested more concretely with architectural interventions in refugee camps. In 2014 the Shu’fat School for Girls was inaugurated for 1,000 students, teachers, and local organizations as an expression of dignity and strength of the refugee community living in overcrowded refugee camps. Further, in 2015 these practices led to the construction of a “Concrete Tent” in the garden of the Al Finiq Cultural Center in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, a pavilion that embodies the contradiction of the permanent temporariness of Palestinian refugees.
Their artist practice has received the following awards: Keith Haring Fellowship in Art and Activism at Bard College, Loeb Fellowship Harvard University, Price Claus Prize for Architecture, shortlisted for Visible Award, the Curry Stone Design Prize, the New School’s Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, the Anni and Heinrich Sussmann Artist Award , the Chrnikov Prize and recipient of the Foundation for Art initiatives grant.
Alessandro is a professor of Architecture and Social Justice at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm and Sandi has initiated the living room project, a series of spaces of hospitality that have the potential to subvert the role of guest and host.