The Gazan-born artist, Taysir Batniji, is one of Palestine’s leading conceptual artists. Batniji first left Gaza when he was 25 years old, and has travelled intermittently between his current place of residence, Paris, and his native Palestine. The condition of displacement between two cities and two cultures has had a strong influence on his work and artistic identity – a person and a practice within and without a country. Batniji’s artistic practice thus reflects on notions of displacement, disappearance, separation and loss. Emptiness, absence, and disunity are also recurring concepts in an oeuvre that is very much grounded in the experience of the Palestinian question and plight. The Jewish-Palestinian war of 1948 is called al-Nakba (“The Catastrophe”) in Arabic, because hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to flee from the war, and lost their traditional lands and homes, where they had been living for centuries. Today, the number of Palestinian refugees exceeds four million.
Israel denies them the right to return to their lawful homes. Ironically, in the same year, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.
Article 13 of the Declaration states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to
return to his country.” Reflecting the instability of the situation he comes from, Batniji often works with unstable or ephemeral materials. Man Does Not Live on Bread Alone consists of the French translation of article 13, carved meticulously into blocks of household soap. The title of course refers to the lack of the right to mobility, whereas the material infers the lack of supplies, utilities and amenities that the Palestinians face. Carved in soap, article 13 becomes an ambiguous statement of dissolvability
and impermanence. Will the article itself be washed away, as the current situation attests, or will the Palestinian question and the refugee crisis finally be resolved?