Alexander and Bonin features work by the Palestinian artist Emily Jacir, whose work concerns issues of historical narratives of freedom and exile. Ex-libris consists of digital c-prints of numerous sizes taken from a number of pages in Palestinian books linked to former owners. In 1948, Israeli authorities looted about thirty thousand books from Palestinian homes, institutions, and libraries that are now kept in the Jewish National and University Library in West Jerusalem. After many visits, Jacir photographed a number of pages with her cell phone, documenting small personal traces within the books of owner’s names, scribbles, stamps and other marginalia. Jacir personally photographed specific segments of the books in search of identifying information of the owner’s names, bookstores, and individuals that requested to view these books. Within that library, six thousand of these books were categorized under “A.P.” (Abandoned Property). Meaning, the library is voluntarily giving up all rights, titles, or claims to the books, which then rightfully belongs to the owners. If this is the case, Jacir’s work still poses a number of unanswered questions concerning the placement of these books and their significance from the other thirty thousand books located in the library’s general collection. The artist definitely has a deep connection to the physicality of the books, yet her experience is only momentary. In the end, she is left with a photograph that does not exactly have the same sentimental value as possessing the books.
By translating the connection between the photograph and book, Jacir took into consideration all formal aspects of presentation. The photographs vary in size and were printed onto Plexiglas and dibond, causing a shiny surface quality. In contrast to the raw materiality of the books, the reflective surface eliminates personal traces and ownership attached, which suggests disconnection. She assembles the photographs onto shelves encompassing the gallery walls. In doing this, Jacir is mimicking the arrangement of books stacked onto library shelves. As a whole, Jacir does not only tackle issues of looting of the Palestinians’ belongings, but also touches on issues about restitution and repatriation of Palestinians. Today, the debate of returning the books to their collective property is not as simple as it seems. It is possible to return some books to their rightful owners, but this investigation needs further analysis. Jacir’s focus on the marginalia and annotations inside of the books is the key component in finding further information on provenance, and it also allows the viewer to relate and empathize as it brings a human touch to the conflict.