The first mention of Umm el-Fahem is in a written document from 1262. The villagers earned their living by preparing charcoal from the trees of the neighboring groves, or that they would bring from far away, and heap in piles, for them to burn internally. Umm-el-Fahem, which means “the source of the charcoal,” derives its name from this.
The Umm-el-Fahem Art Gallery hosted “Memories of a Place,” a photographic exhibition, in 2008. No photographic history of Arab settlements in the Wadi Ara region had existed prior to then, since the historical photos of the region and its inhabitants that had been shot, were not kept in any archive, printed in books or put on show. One chapter of the “Memory of a Place” exhibition dealt with photographer Shai Aloni documenting the elders of Wadi Ara in the salon (“diwan”) of their homes. The photos helped us understand not only the old men captured in them, but the interior configuration of the room where guests are welcomed, all complemented by the verbal evidence from the video interviews, which were photographed and edited by the gallery staff. “Memory of a Place” laid down a infrastructure for the development of a historical archive, offering a residents of the area and visitors to the museum, a unique and original look on the Wadi Ara’s past. The current exhibition, “Shadows of Time: Photographic documentation of the elders of Wadi 'Ara", developed out of this infrastructure.
The pictures for the catalogue were photographed over a five-year period (2007-2012), and all are portraits of people whose average age is about 80 – Palestinian Israelis, Arab Muslims, citizens of the State of Israel. Most of them had lived in Wadi Arabefore 1948 and some in nearby villages that were destroyed once the 1948 war ended. The photographs show them in the places and homes where they live now most of which were constructed after the founding of the State of Israel. Thus, the construction is not the brick and stone of traditional rural architecture, but of the sort concrete characteristic of urban and suburban design. The courtyard and patio are outside the house, and the diwan or salon is inside. The contrasts – external/internal; physical/mental – seep into the form of the buildings in which the subjects of the photographs live, vessels of sort for their cultural and historical identity.
The elders of Wadi Ara answered the call and faced the cameras. Some, as documented in Shay Alony’s photographs, dressed in their traditional garb and seated in their in their own salon/diwan. Some sat on their patio, in their courtyard, or at work, dressed in everyday clothing, as we can see in Ammar Younes’ photos, while others were captured by the camera as they looked straight ahead, as though posing for a portrait,as documented in the work of Wijdan and Khaled Fa'our.
The willingness of the wadi elders to sit in front of the representatives of historical documentation – the photographers – enabled the latter to pass on an intimate glimpse of the faces of the elders, and of their homes and living spaces. In this way, they are passing the heritage of visual memory – something sorely lacking in Arab society -to future generations. It is the memory of the Arab house, their house; the memory of how they dressed; the memory of their look. It would be the last official memory for most of them.
Academic adviser: Prof. Mustafa Kabha & Curator: Guy Raz
The Catalog of Shadows of Time Photo Documentation of the Elders of Wadi 'Ara 2007-2012