Around 5 million Palestinian refugees remain stateless 67 years after the formation of Israel led to their displacement. By juxtaposing portraits of refugees with their former homes in what is today Israel, Alan Gignoux aims to highlight the cost to individuals of the failure of the international community to resolve their situation.
Homeland Lost is a photo essay that juxtaposes portraits of Palestinian refugees with present day images of the places they were forced to leave in 1948 as a result of the war that led to the creation of Israel. The project took two years to complete and entailed extensive work in Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, along with careful research inside Israel to identify the exact location of the subjects’ villages and homes in 1948.
Homeland Lost presents portraits of stateless Palestinians living in refugee camps, Palestinian exiles settled in Jordan and Lebanon with citizenship in those countries and Palestinians living in Israel. The subjects reflect the diversity of the diaspora in gender, class, age and religion and the photographs as a group portray a society in exile.
The portraits are paired with present day views of the homes and villages from which the subjects originated, to which they have not been permitted to return and which they may not visit. These images record the transformation of the former Palestinian landscape. Many of the villages, razed during the war to discourage return, have fallen into ruin and are now either overgrown with weeds or obscured by forests of pine, planted by the Jewish National Fund to hide the traces of former habitation. Where the houses remain they have become home to Israeli families or been converted to new uses. Towns and villages have been renamed.
Palestinians refer to the events that led to the creation of Israel as al-nakba, the catastrophe, to emphasize the suffering caused by dispersal, exile, alienation and denial. Many older Palestinian exiles still long for lost houses, villages, communities, land, orchards and olive trees as well as the more abstract "homeland." They have built their lives around the dream of return, keeping keys, maps and entitlement cards from many years ago, as symbols of ownership and loss. Fulfilment of the “right of return” enshrined in UN Resolution 194 became their hope for the future. As the years pass and successive international efforts to find a resolution fail, however, younger generations, without personal memory or contact with the homeland, face an uncertain future with little hope to sustain them.
The project speaks of the difficulty of facing up to the impossibility of restoring a past that has ceased to exist and highlights the necessity of imagining an alternative future: the fact remains that there are around 5 million UNRWA refugees who remain stateless 67 years after the events that drove them into exile.
Exhibitions where this work has been shown
- University of Ghent, Ghent
- Linen Hall, Ypres
- Museum of Contemporary Art, Ekaterinburg
- Barbican, London
- Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
- Cinemateque, Tel Aviv
- Linen Hall Library, Belfast
- ACAF Foundation, Alexandria
- Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo
- Al Madina Theatre, Beirut
- Dar Al Anda Gallery, Amman
- Jaffa Café, Jaffa
- Birzeit University, Ramallah
- Al Ma'mal Gallery, Jerusalem
A British Council and AM Qattan Foundation sponsored project in which Alan Gignoux juxtaposes portraits of Palestinian refugees taken where they are today with images of their former homes and villages in Israel.
Exhibited internationally, including the Barbican, London.
BBC Interview: Homeland Lost at the Barbican
Alan Gignoux talking to the BBC about the meaning and significance of the Homeland Lost exhibition at the Barbican.