Peter Goddard (2008)

Toronto Star

Video installation explores life torn between two cultures

Activist Jehad Aliweiwi, who frequently returns to his hometown of Hebron, is the subject of 'Jehad in Motion.'

Richard Fung explores concept of home in work that takes him from Toronto to Hebron
Oct 30, 2008 04:30 AM

Peter Goddard

Near the end of Jehad in Motion, Richard Fung's understated video installation beginning today at XeXe Gallery, Jehad Aliweiwi looks approvingly around the Toronto landscape while thinking about Hebron, the West Bank Palestinian city with a Jewish settlement occupying its interior.

Yes, Aliweiwi is a success in Toronto, with a good job and a promising future. There's a woman in his life. They kissed outside the CBC building following an NDP fundraiser. How more Canadian can you get? Yet, as he admits out loud, if everything falls to pieces on him in Canada, he'll still have Hebron. It's where he grew up, where much of his family still lives, where he's still remembered when he strolls through the city's streets.

Fung knows this unsettled sense of place all too well. Having lived 15 years in Trinidad where he was born, the acclaimed Toronto-based video artist understands how imagining "home" may take the heart in many different directions while leaving the brain to sort it all out.

"If you see my reflection in Jehad it's because he reflects my interest in Trinidad," Fung says.

"Toronto is really my home now. But when I go back to Trinidad I remember things like driving (British-style) on the `wrong' side of the road. Jehad is not talking about a physical space but about the space where he finds his family."

Just a shade more than 25 minutes long, Jehad in Motion is a walk-up to the third annual Voices Forward film and culture series, running Nov. 12 to 16, which draws together work reflecting Israeli-Palestinian collaboration rather than conflict.

"Your neighbour is your other self dwelling behind a wall," the suggestion by Khalil Gibran, is the motto cited as motivating the series.

Jehad in Motion is designed to show the conflicted interaction of cultures that complete one another in some ways yet compete in other ways. Employing a pair of matching screens, Motion begins enigmatically with matching shots of aircraft shown flying against a sweet, summery-looking sky full of fluffy clouds: one sky in Toronto, the other Hebron. This is Fung's way of messing with our understanding of what he means by "motion." Aliweiwi's trips are mostly the interior kind, motion through intellectual space. When in Hebron, he's thinking about Toronto – and vice versa.

It should be noted that Aliweiwi, former head of the Canadian Arab Federation and a social activist, is a thoughtful speaker sought out on occasion by the Toronto media for his take on Middle Eastern-related events.

He first caught the notice of the press in 2001 when the transport ministry grudgingly allowed him to continue driving with "JEHAD" on his licence plate. The government originally wanted to revoke the plate following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

"I've asked a lot of question about the idea of Diaspora, about what happens in the process of moving from one space to another," says Fung, an associate professor at the Ontario College of Art & Design.

"The spaces themselves are affected by that movement. When Jehad goes back to Palestine he's actually gone back (in his imagination) six months before, when he began shopping for gifts to take back. It's the flow of ideas that go back and forth."

Jehad in Motion is at XeXe Gallery (624 Richmond St. W. near Bathurst St.), along with the photography exhibition Breaking the Silence, from a number of Palestinian and Israeli photographers, depicting Hebron's tortuous evolution over the past 40 years.

Fung and Aliweiwi will be at XeXe starting at 6 p.m. on Nov.13.