Review: Shuruq Harb – A Book of Signatures

Exhibition: Shuruq Harb – A Book of Signatures, Ikon, Birmingham, until May 16 2010

Mohammed is not a name like any other. Moreso than say, John, it is also a religious label. In secular or non-muslim societies it has the potential to stigmatise its bearer.

But in Shuruq Harb’s homeland, Palestine, more than 250,000 men are called Mohammed. That’s 13.5% of the population. A name could not be more ordinary.

Yet this precise and pristine installation shows there is no such thing as an ordinary Mohammed. 250 individuals have signed a page of Harb’s book and, even to a non-arabic viewer, the results look more diverse than the horizontally aligned signatures we are used to in the West.

The names are given weight by inclusion in a thick, leather-bound book which rests under glass like a priceless manuscript, a repository of secrets.

Yet one by one they appear as projections on an adjacent plinth. Each flourish and scrawl reveals an infinite number of dimensions to being a Mohammed.

Even in a land of circumscribed destinies, these marks reveal an undiminished drive to assert one’s own particular history and fate, despite the fact that signatures are a reminder for many Palestinians of territory and rights sometimes blindly signed away.

For just this reason, Harb reports that some refused to participate in her project, while others were simply amused. The book is also a record of 250 unique encounters between an emerging artist and the populace of a world troublespot.

She collected her names by one Mohammed introducing another to reveal a network based on chance and regional demographics, now enshrined in a work of art

Harb’s real achievement is to give a distinct impression of this cross section of her compatriots. It is a book of hints, suggestions and potentialities.

Written for Culture24.

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