Dor Guez frames intimate portrait of Palestinian pluralities

Melissa Chemam
7 min readFeb 1, 2023


Melissa Chemam

01 February, 2023

Dor Guez seeks to challenge our perception of his homeland. Over the course of 50 solo exhibitions worldwide, Dor’s personal gaze into Palestinian culture, history, and geography through photography, film and archive has been received with acclaim.

“At the heart of my practice as an artist, I am a storyteller, so it felt natural to be interested in parallel and even conflicting narratives,” Dor Guez tells The New Arab, as his exhibition Knowing The Land at the Goodman Gallery in London concludes.

As we spoke, Dor’s next exhibition had already opened at the Princeton University Art Museum in Princeton, New Jersey, USA, entitled , with another exhibition reaching Germany in February at the Felix Nussbaum Museum from 11 February 2023.

All exhibits include photographs and three-screen film installations, elaborated from a collection of photos by Guez and fascinating colonial archives he’s been digging out of Palestinian and Israeli institutions for over a decade.

“What I’m trying to do is to create doubts… So many people have such strong opinions about our history and this region, and I like to challenge the concept of knowing”

Dor’s work intensively reflects on the visual representation of Palestine over the centuries, but also its topography and geography, its borders and its botanical identity.

“My new body of work, Knowing the Land focuses on varied mechanisms of producing knowledge by colonial structures,” he adds.

“The invasion of colonial power is relevant to my homeland, in particular, as well as the ‘Levant’ as a region. Photographers, archaeologists, topographers, and geographers came to ‘The East’ with measuring tools to map the area and to classify and arranged it according to ‘scientific’ definitions, terminologies, and categories. This information has been organised, by generals, priests, historians, and artists alike. Knowing the Land explores some of these methods.”

For all these reasons, Dor is hyper-aware of the importance of language, and visual representations of the region, which leads him to be naturally precautious while naming the sites, cities and nations themselves.

“The conversation about the biases built into our language extends from the field of gender to the field of geography,” Dor says. “Many use the term ‘Middle East’, which is Eurocentric in essence. The title I chose for the sculptural works in the exhibition is 90 Degrees From the Sun, which refers to the direction in which maps were facing in the past — east and not north, therefore, to this day we use the term ‘oriented’ which derives from turning east and not north. When you say you’re ‘oriented’, it implies that you have found the north.”

With photographs of maps deprived of their borderlines and plants plunged into colours, the exhibition offers the viewer to follow different types of lines: some indicate borders between countries and empires, some are the contour lines of plants and thus define their species, others show ways to map mountains and valleys, and some signal the oldest way to mark a straight line using a weight stretched on a string.

“Lines help humans identify places and plants, thus recognising and appropriating what those lines encompass,” Dor continues.

“That is why it is almost confusing for us to look at the new series of maps I propose in the show, Between Imperial Grids as we don’t locate any straight lines. I removed all man-made marks and signs — we as the viewers, are not even sure to which way the map is facing — North? East? There are no indications. It holds the potential of making you feel uncomfortable and even disoriented.”

When he started my research in state and non-state archives, Dor realised that there are many different ways of looking at visual material and written documents,” he continues.

“I quickly understood how storytelling is a subjective tool,” he explains. “Sometimes the same person can tell you the same stories in variant versions. The idea of multiple possibilities is the point of departure for many of my projects, and I hope the works encourage the audience to rethink what they think they know.”

So, all his artworks question the identity of the people living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, especially by digging into his personal family history.

“The place I call my home, ‘the cradle of civilisation’, was claimed by a great many throughout history,” Dor told The New Arab. “It’s one of the most intense places that comes to mind in terms of ownership. The Zionist movement saw the Old Testament as a contract between this territory and the Jewish people. Christianity recognised it as the ‘Holy Land’. Both perceptions were followed by territorial claims and religious interests. The visual symbols of Ottoman Palestine, in the 19th century, began when the roads were opened, and Europeans and Americans started to visit. This increase of traffic and visibility by visitors was also due to the invention of cameras, and the image-making of the ‘Holy Land’.”

Colony, shown at the Princeton University Art Museum, is the result of six years of research in the archives of the American Colony in Jerusalem.

Dor Guez created a 3-channel video installation titled Colony, based on hand-painted photographic albums that were commissioned first by the Ottomans and later by the British, to document the plagues of locusts in Palestine (1915, 1930). The video work includes two parallel sound channels.

“The first, which sounds like the playing of unidentified musical instruments, is based on recordings of communication between grasshoppers under laboratory conditions,” the artist explains.

“The second sound channel in the video is narrated by an Arab male voice, an official anchor, In contrast to the colonialist photographic perspective of the albums. The content of the text is twofold: on the one hand, it sounds like a text about the metamorphoses of swarms, while on the other, it deals with the formation of colonies throughout history. This ambiguity, which is kept throughout the work, charges the narrative and allows parallel readings of ecological, political, and social meanings.”

The video installation also deals with the conditions under which the colony emerges and its economic and territorial aspirations, which ultimately lead to its collapse from within.

“I have been working with the curator of the show, Mitra Abbaspour, since 2009. We decide to name the show Colony because the site itself in Princeton has a deep colonial history. I like to find a web of different meanings between my work and the place it is presented in. For instance, the show opening this February at the Felix Nussbaum Museum in Germany is based on old maps of Europe and the exhibition deals with the construction of the term ‘homeland’.”

Dor also reminds us how deeply we are used to reading history from common meta-narratives, which are distributed by politicians, institutions, textbooks, and more. He is trying to do the opposite.

“I’m an individual,” he says. “I’m not trying to represent any group, community, or nation. I’m telling stories, one at a time, from a personal perspective. When I started presenting exhibitions, I was surprised how one person’s story could so profoundly undermine another person’s worldview, and how it can be reclaimed as a political statement,” Dor continues.

“What my grandmother or my grandfather are telling my camera about the catastrophe of 1948, is not an attempt to convince anyone to follow a specific political point of view. Perhaps this is also what makes their story, mine, ours, even more threatening. On the same token, having a Palestinian mother and a Jewish father is not a political statement, it’s a very private love story. I’m trying to relate to how society relates to minorities; a part of it is connected to the pressure of defining a monolithic identity and it can become a dangerous setup.”

With archives, films and photographs, Dor managed to make these personal stories feel so much more powerful, and also very emotional.

“What I’m trying to do is to create doubts,” he simply concludes. “So many people have such strong opinions about our history and this region, and I like to challenge the concept of knowing. Personally, I feel like I’m learning a bit more with each project that I do, and still, there is so much to listen to.

“I look to both archives that are presenting a very specific agenda, and others that are very unique, like the ones created by artists. If you look at a wide range of them, they will take you on a long journey. So in a sense, the title Knowing The Land is a bit ironic; it reflects that the colonialists didn’t necessarily familiarise themselves with the ‘East’. We’ve become so obsessed with designing and defining national identities that we forget that not so long ago we identified ourselves from other perspectives. I was born in Jerusalem, and I live in Jaffa, which is under the municipality of Tel Aviv today- but Jaffa is not Tel Aviv in any sense. Jaffa a biblical city that my grandmother was deported from in 1948. You see, sometimes it can feel reductive to let others define you by your nationality.”

Dor is also interested in showing his work and bringing his research and educational work to places that are off the Euro-centric grid.

“I see how the work, like myself, can be perceived in various ways. But I cannot describe myself in one of them only. I always lived in multilingual environments. My grandfather studied Arabic at a school in Ottoman Palestine. My grandmother, who is younger than him, studied English at a British school for girls in Mandatory Palestine, and my mother, who was born in the 1950s, studied in a public school in Hebrew. My other grandfather studied in Arabic in the capital city of Tunis, my grandmother, who is younger than him, studied in French, and my father, who was also born in Tunis, started speaking Arabic and French before he was sent to a Hebrew-speaking school.”

And all these identities have definitely allowed the artists to help us see the multiple layers of Palestine with deeper insight.

“Sometimes, he concludes, “life summons situations where you become a kind of a chameleon to survive.”

Melissa Chemam is a French-Algerian freelance journalist and culture writer based between Paris, Bristol and Marseille, and travelling beyond. Follow her on Twitter: @melissachemam

Originally published at on February 1, 2023.



Melissa Chemam

Journalist/writer, I’ve reported in 30 countries for the RFI, BBC, CBC, DW, magazines, on African-European relations, social change, arts, music & politics