“Many people don’t know that there are also Arabs living in Israel,” Nissreen Najjar (Nazareth, 1985) tells me from across my Mac screen. The artist, who grew up in occupied historic Palestine within the State of Israel, is currently based in Paris, commuting between the French capital and Jerusalem; or so she did until the pandemic. Being an Arab Christian woman in an area mired in long-lasting religious and ethnic conflict such as her native country has immensely influenced her artistic work, using it to reflect the issues that concern her. “This part of my identity has been essential in my approach to artistic creation,” she shares.
Nisreen is a woman with a kind face and an air of confidence, and she immediately opens up about her life. Asked about the beginning of her career, she tells me how after studying Fine Arts, she began to teach in Bethlehem and Jerusalem at universities. Art has always been a part of her life. It is a way for her to explore her identity as an individual and a member of a social and historical community, as well as an instrument to denounce the suffering of the Palestinian people. At the same time, it allows her to describe power hierarchies within Israel and across the rest of the world. “I consider myself a translator, I translate what happens in my homeland into my art. I tell the story of my family, of my people, and of my own life. That is my starting point, and with this raw material I construct a web of different interpretations from the perspective of someone who understands perfectly that reality but can also observe it from the outside,” she says.
From the start, I realize that it would be impossible to fully comprehend Nissreen’s artwork without understanding the daily reality of the Palestinian people and their recent history, so I direct my next question around this. “I always try to talk about what I know, what has been part of my own experiences and what catches my attention,” she explains. Nissreen works with video, performance, photography and sculpture. This combination of installations and different techniques provides her with multiple possibilities when it comes to communicating complex themes. “I bring my identity and myself to the ‘white cube’, breaking it down through confession. I baptize my cultural elements and turn them into subversive and obsessive materials.”