GDE740: Week 9 – Inspecting Amulets

In my very limited knowledge about the topic of amulets, the evil eye symbolizes the hope that nothing bad will occur, and that my friends, family, and myself stay safe and healthy.

The evil eye in contemporary usage

As a visual symbol, the evil eye may represent this desire to ward off harm caused by bad intentions, but in reality, the belief in warding off evil is more deeply ingrained in my culture than just the use of an object. Verbally and colloquially, we strongly associate with protective sayings in our everyday life.

تبارك الله‎
Blessings of God

ما شاء الله‎
God has willed it

طرقة عين
Hit with the eye

عين الحسود فيها عود
May the envious eye by poked

يلعن عينك
Curse your eye

The evil eye emoji from a variety of operating systems and devices

Not to fixate on this particular amulet shape, but it is the most recognizable. So much so that when you type in the word amulet in a chat on your phone, the suggestion is to use the evil eye emoji. In the interest of picking and probing at what this symbol could possibly mean to people in our contemporary times, I asked people on Instagram what they feel it symbolizes, or what it means to them:

The idea behind asking this particular question was not to probe into the general topic of amulets, but rather observe the reaction to this particular symbol.

What I could deduce from this was that the evil eye was seen in many different ways:
  1. As a protective amulet
  2. As a fashion accessory
  3. As a decorate item
  4. As a souvenir

So I start to wonder, has it really lost its meaning and power? If it’s associated more widely with a souvenir shop than an object imbued with mystical healing properties, would Canaan’s collection in the Science Museum’s archive be perceived in the same way? Are they on the verge of losing their meaning altogether?

Cultural Heritage Preservation

Dr. Canaan’s goal in collecting amulets was to study their relation to modern medicine, but also to preserve Palestinian cultural heritage. His research and work, primarily in English and German, spoke to colonial powers, in an effort to educate them. Not to say that his efforts were in vain, but from what I can tell now is that the aim of preservation in the practice of archival is best left in the hands of the beholder, lest their meaning be altered or erased.

“For authentic memories, it is far less important that the investigator report on them than that he mark, quite precisely, the site where he gained possession of them. Epic and rhapsodic in the strictest sense, genuine memory must therefore yield an image of the person who remembers.” – Walter Benjamin, Excavation and Memory

(Walter et al., 1931)

When thinking of how amulets might be perceived in the future, it feels as tho a prediction of their erasure in its entirety is not far fetched. Their image may even be assigned to other cultures, and be loosely associated with their original heritage. From studies about the amulets in Birzeit’s collection, we know that some of them originated in various Palestinian cities and villages. However, other objects came from Arab countries including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen. (al-Ju’beh, 2005)

Palestine Hosting Society – Mirna Bamieh

Palestine Hosting Society, a project by Palestinian artist Mirna Bamieh, is a live art project that explores traditional food culture in Palestine especially those that are on the verge of disappearing. The project brings these dishes back to life over dinner tables, talks, walks, and various interventions. (Bamieh, 2020) While Bamieh doesn’t archive culture in the traditional Western sense, her work is involves injecting a spirit back into recipes that would otherwise be appropriated or forgotten.

Refik Anadol – Machine Hallucinations

Another artist whose work revolves around the topic of archival is Refik Anadol. Although much more gutteral, global, and conceptual, his sensory installations hold a deeper meaning for the future of archives. His installation “Machine Hallucinations” attempts at revealing new connections between visual narrative, archival instinct and collective consciousness. The project focuses on latent cinematic experiences derived from representations of urban memories as they are re-imagined by machine intelligence. (Anadol, 2019) Although they do not offer any information at face value as a typical archive would, they immerse the viewer in waves of emotion, invoked by centuries of recorded material translated by a computer.

https://www.instagram.com/saddaminamman

The Instagram account Sadam in Amman is to me a great representation of a homegrown archive of current cultural phenomenon. Lacking any captions or comments and taking anonymous contributions, the account features pictures of Sadam as stickers, posters, phones cover, face watches, and more. His image, representative of an emotion, of hope or pride, is almost like an amulet. As an archive, it’s successful in conveying a feeling for the objects recorded as they are not displayed on top of a blank background, but rather captured in their environment, providing a much needed context for the image of Sadam in Amman.

Reimbuing the Aura

That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalise by saying the technique of detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions, it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. – Walter Benjamin – The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

(Benjamin, 1969)

This leads me to my final proposed idea for this project.

3D models of select Palestinian amulets open source for 3D printing. AR or scan to unlock digital vault of personal amulets. For gifting to a loved one, to pass on to future generations.

If photos of the archive can be made available on a public domain, why can’t a more tangible form of these objects also be made accessible?

For every photo in the archive, there is an adjacent, 3D-print ready model.

Once printed, the object can be scanned to unlock a secret vault to a host of media: images, voice notes, videos. 

An app interface can allow further engagement with these objects, starting from an initial set up of the vault, to personalisation and customisation, and finally a mechanism in which the first user can pass it on to the second user.

The Palestinian amulets at the Science Museum are most likely hidden in boxes, the reproduction of their visual appearance made available on a public domain, but otherwise void of their original meaning and their mystical properties.

Offering an alternative form of reproduction, this process can render these unreachable items tangible again, transferring their ownership and opening the possibility for their magic to be re-imbued. 

This is a gifting system; but this is also repatriation, without the legal complexities.

Reference list

al-Ju’beh, B. (2005). Magic and Talismans The Tawfiq Canaan Collection of Palestinian Amulets. [online] Available at: https://www.palestine-studies.org/sites/default/files/jq-articles/22_23_magic_1_0.pdf.

Anadol, R. (2019). Machine Hallucination. [online] Refikanadol.com. Available at: https://refikanadol.com/works/machine-hallucination/.

Bamieh, M. (2020). Palestine Hosting Society مجموعة استضافات فلسطين – Palestinehostingsociety. [online] palestinehostingsociety.com. Available at: https://palestinehostingsociety.com/Palestine-Hosting-Society-1 [Accessed 22 Nov. 2021].

Benjamin, W. (1969). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. [online] Available at: https://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/benjamin.pdf.

Walter, F., Bullock, M., Jennings, M., Eiland, H. and Smith, G. (1931). Ibizan Sequence. Selected Writings, [online] 2(2), p.576. Available at: https://folk.uib.no/hlils/TBLR-B/Benjamin-ExcavMem.pdf [Accessed 22 Nov. 2021].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s