Shatila 4, 2011, mixed media on concrete, triptych, 96 x 146 cm
In the words of the artist
The UNRWA drawings are a series of maps from five different Palestinian refugee camps inside Lebanese territories. In 2005, a friend of mine conducted a workshop on camp mapping, and showed me the drawings made by the camps’ inhabitants who were of different ages and genders, all mapping out their living environment. I was fascinated by the detailed realities and the sense of humor in them. In many urban areas, these tenements whether they are camps, favelas, or ghettos, are usually perceived as black holes within the city fabric that other urban dwellers try to avoid – possibly because the unknown or uncharted spaces symbolize our greatest fears.
In making the UNRWA Series, Rechmaoui drew on a project initiated by the non-governmental organization, Arab Resource Collective, which asked residents of different Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon to make mappings of their surrounding environments by hand. He then reproduced and enlarged the resulting cognitive maps on different materials culled from the everyday fabric of the camps: wooden planks, burlap bags, concrete blocks, corrugated metal, and tin sheets. The resulting drawings present a communally constructed emotive psycho-geography, riddled with everyday minutiae and humor, referencing diverse social and urban phenomena present in the camps: UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) headquarters, spaces of worship, and distribution of residents based on citizenship status. It may be said that alternative cartographies such as those enclosed in the UNRWA Series work to dispel the othering ambiguity that surrounds the 12 Palestinian refugee camps in the dominant cultures of the Lebanese public sphere.