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The Architecture of Exile IV. B

In Seeking Locations in Palestine for the Film "The Gospel According to Matthew" (1965), Pier Paolo Pasolini discovers that Palestine was not the majestic biblical landscape he had in mind, but rather “four barren hillsides, an arid and abandoned landscape, burnt by the sun.” He remarks that local inhabitants cannot be used for extras because of their “savage faces,” and exclaims that “Christ’s preaching had not been heard here, not even from afar.” The priest who accompanied Pasolini in his journey, comforting him, wondered if at “the time of Christ the Galilee was different; that Palestine, prior to the Arab invasions was a bit more florid, richer.”

The film continues on in contrast by documenting Pasolini’s admiration of the communitarian life he found when visiting kibbutz Bar'am. What he failed to realize was that this “freedom, emancipation and model for communitarian life” was built on the ruins of Palestinian villages: Kafr Bir’im in this case, a Christian village evacuated by Jewish militia in 1948 and demolished in 1953 to prevent its inhabitants from returning. The site today has been declared a national park and touristic archaeological site. However, some of the original inhabitants succeeded in remaining close to their village of origin, and their struggle to return has never ceased.

Pasolini’s film stumbles from stereotype to stereotype. This continues to the point at which, upon arriving to Jerusalem, a city divided in two, he capitulates in his search. Many before him had the same problem and attempted to redesign the country so that it would resemble this biblical image. Instead, desperate, Pasolini moved the location of his film to the Sassi of Matera in southern Italy—ancient cave dwellings that a few decades later would become inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In 2010, the Italian photographer Luca Capuano was commissioned by UNESCO to document the forty-four sites inscribed on the World Heritage list located in Italy. In 2016 we commissioned Capuano to document Dheisheh Refugee Camp—a Palestinian refugee camp located just south of Bethlehem in the West Bank—as a World Heritage Site with the same respect, care, and search for monumentality used when photographing historical centers like Venice, Rome, or Mantua. Contemporary notions of heritage and conservation have been appropriated by institutions of great power, which are too often oriented towards cultural expropriation. Contrary to this, we seek to deploy the potential for heritage as an agent of political transformation.

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