Al Maeishah is a living learning environment conceived to understand the challenges in making the common. It is envisioned as a long term journey, an experimental and itinerant creative process, to connect and actively interact with custodians of diverse and intersecting habitats, to consider together:
What does the world look like from Here? From our perception of the reality we live in and our role within it? What will these lived stories and experiences reveal?
How is this played out?
We begin ritually by articulating a place where disbelief is suspended instead of rights. Inside or outside, it is inscribed through natural elements, along with the constructed or those brought along, and the gathering itself. It is delineated in time as a moment between arrival and departure. Linking each such moment to the next is a shifting image carried with us – a point of view that changes cyclically. These components coalesce into a particular gathering – ghorfat al maeishah – that hosts, in an open but not neutral form a group of people – mujaawarah – who come together to critically and creatively confront the following three concerns:
How is the relationship between guest and host conceived and reinvented within different cultures and social groups?
What does it mean to share personal stories and direct experiences in a way that we can learn from each other?
Is it possible to redefine the concept of Nation-State by deconstructing its paralyzing procedures and by moving towards more inclusive praxes?
The first conceptual and practical inspiration draws from the Arabic term for describing the living-room (ghorfat: room; al maeishah: living) – a shared home-space shaped to spend time together and to host. In Palestine we experienced together its intimate, flexible and restorative possibilities, alongside its use as a place of negotiation, intensity and resolution. By bringing in the outside, it challenges the distinction between private, public and common space. These qualities inspire a dialogical and fertile environment to address mutual concerns.
In such living-room environments we mean to assemble those who are interested in a dialogue that critically and creatively confronts the three concerns above, focusing on the living process: Al Maeishah.
Here we locate our investigative and editorial unit – a repository and emergent system of interconnected images, objects and ideas. It is imagined as a counter-cartographic atlas with traces and diagrams – an ever-changing installation, enriched by the encounters on the journey.
Herein emerges Mujaawarah (a gathering) as the medium. Al-mujaawarah is an integral part of life, where people (participants) converse about actions and experiences, critically reflect on them, and in so doing, gradually and freely build personal and communal meanings and understandings. It requires physical presence and can only happen between mureedeen and muraadeen (between those who want to learn in reciprocal ways).
No one belongs here. Or rather, everyone can belong here. Through ancient formulas, such as the one from Varro below, the meaning of land is defined: not as territory to which connection can be expected or denied, but as a meshwork. Those who direct their life trajectories to intersect here do so as custodians of a way of being, of practices through which a common understanding is continuously explored and transformed. It is in this convergence that place is generated relationally – the existence of which is dependent on a shared custodianship. In its dynamics we may find a different form of alignment to that of territorial states and ethnicities.
Have the temple and wild lands run to where I with due ceremony name them.
Whatever kind it is, let the soothsaying tree I have named stand as temple, with wild land to the left.
Whatever kind it is, let the soothsaying tree I have named stand as temple, with wild land to the right.
Let the temple between these trees be for drawing directions, for making observations and for divining from the sky;
I have ritually named them.
– Marcus Terentius Varro’s passage from Lingua Latina (7. 8-13), describing a ritual of sacred observation, which he recorded in the 1st century BC. (Translation: Paul Magee)
Living-rooms and Nation-States are antithetical, nested and intertwined environments. They are defined, and paradoxically challenged, by articulating the familiar, controlling accessibility and outlining identities. To overcome their increasing exclusivity and oppressive methods, requires a paradoxical approach that instead can deploy them as learning devices for mutual well-being. We aim to stand in this paradox: to experiment and experience, once again, the utopia of freedom and political legitimacy.
Al Maeishah, reaching towards this vision, is founded on shared and experienced values that govern actions, defined by fundamental, inalienable principles, which shape its process:
• a focus on the 3 topics underpinning Al Maeishah;
• a conversation in which participants are free to intervene;
• conducted in an open but not neutral form, bypassing the need for agreements;
• bringing in stories based on personal experiences, stitching theory & practice;
• everybody’s experience is equally important, regardless of status or formal education;
• strive for harmony between what we think, say and do;
• an environment where everybody is a political subject, and victimhood becomes an active agent of transformation;
• the sharing of food and drink as a vehicle for meeting and conversation.