Randa Maddah is a multimedia artist born in the Golan Heights in 1983. Her work deals with ideas of place and time, displacement and memory. Here, she shares some thoughts on key works in her career to date, as well as new directions emerging during her current residency in Paris at the Cité Internationale des Arts.
For the past decade, the subject that has occupied me has been time and place: amongst displacement and conflict, how do shifting notions of time and place impact us? What are their repercussions?
As such, I work across different media, including sculpture, drawing and video. Ultimately, it’s the subject that will determine which medium I use for any particular project, but all three are complementary in shaping forms and ideas.
When I work in sculpture, for example, the space around it occupies me as much as the shape of the work. This pushes me to create something that is a ‘composite’- so when I’m working in photography or film, I try to combine/merge images in order to articulate a particular form or idea. I guess you could call it sculpting space (or sculpting the lack thereof), through different media.
So, time and place have occupied me. The first place was Damascus, and the time, the moment at which I was separated from it. This was the year 2006, and I had just finished my studies. Like all students who come from the Golan (which is where I am from), I had to go back to the occupied Heights. This is when my questions about the meaning of borders and walls first began to form. I suppose the thought process came relatively late in life for me because I had been born under occupation and always been ‘inside’ these walls. I hadn’t really ‘seen’ them until I left and then saw them from the outside.
The second time was Palestine, in 2007. The wall was built and Jerusalem was dismembered. It was impossible to escape the pain this caused: everywhere you turned, you saw it in people’s faces and in daily life. I wanted to reflect this pain through the theme of the body. All of this agony found its way into my work, and in 2008 I produced Puppet Theatre, with its mangled, fallen figures, as events continued to roll through Palestine. I felt like the daughter of that place and that experience. It was difficult to disconnect from that reality, just as one cannot disconnect from years of ongoing slaughter and forced displacement and injustice towards Syrians. Then, what started in Puppet Theatre metamorphosed into Hair Tie in 2016, which I consider to be something like the savage heritage of an ongoing violent reality.
So I ask myself, is it ever possible to erase destruction? Can the act of restoration remove traces of destruction? My video work Light Horizon (2012) was an attempt to remind us of the stories of those displaced from their villages in the Syrian Golan (occupied since 1967). The mundane act of trying to create ‘order’ (by cleaning an abandoned and ruined home) was my attempt to bring back the memory of what had been. How do you bring something back from memory, after the place itself has physical changed, as have the lives – and perhaps even the language – of its inhabitants? That video was made during a time that displacement and destruction were increasing in Syria, yet it was not void of all hope: It seeks to bring back a place’s soul through memory, and carries the idea that there may yet be hope for a return.
More recently, In View (2017) focuses more on the situation of Golan’s inhabitants today. In it, fragmented shards of mirrors dangle gently in an open window frame, images and light glinting off them: I wanted to reflect the two control points on each side of the border to one single point – that in which I was standing. Of course, they also reflect all the little everyday details and chaos that comprise living in that place.
And what of me now? I’ve just started a residency in Paris. I want to use this experience to explore new media and new forms of expression. I’m looking at how memory changes, as does its relationship to place. I want to explore how destruction comes about, and how borders, walls and barriers transform not just maps, but the lives and language of inhabitants. I want the focus more on the subject than ever before – to use the most minimal and simplest of media to express a thought. I am also currently working on an installation entitled Restoration, which brings together video, sculpture and photography. I am trying to raise funding for it as well as finding a space to show it. I am also taking part in two exhibitions in Metz and Rouen in June, and am participating in the Qalandiya International Festival in Palestine in October.