In her film The Jump, Shuruq Harb casts her lens across sprawling territories – the multifaceted Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, the waves of the Mediterranean – but it is in the way she charts the terrain of grief that leaves an impression.
On view at Jameel Arts Centre until Saturday, the 10-minute film has a free-floating narrative that raises questions about death, suicide and the psychological trauma of living under Israeli occupation in Palestine.
It is also available to be viewed online this week in the lead-up to an online talk with the artist hosted by Dar Jacir and Beirut Art Centre on November 29, and next year it will be shown at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Belgium.
What is 'The Jump' by Shuruq Harb?
A robotic voice acts as an omniscient narrator as drone shots glide across the Jordan Valley, a place where banana and date groves flourish, but also where the lowest point on Earth can be found. The work’s central figure, or at least catalyst for the story, is a young Palestinian man who jumped into the Mediterranean Sea and drowned. In The Jump, the conditions surrounding this “leap into the void” are continually interrogated – was it on purpose and why did he do it?
The idea for the work came from Harb’s personal experience, an encounter on the border between Palestine and Jordan, where she met a stranger whose younger brother had recently died in what was labelled an accident, but which they said was more likely a deliberate attempt to end his life.
“The way he described his last phone call [with his brother], it was clear that he called to say goodbye,” she recalls. “I remember getting a phone call like that. In retrospect, you understand that phone conversation better, but there’s also a slew of thoughts that go through one’s mind after.”
Such thoughts are articulated by the film’s two protagonists: author and literary professor Wafa Darwish and psychologist and trauma healer Laila Atshan. The two women, who are also blind, reflect not only on the individual’s death, but also his state of mind, and even broader in scope, the psychology of a person who feels their life perched on the edge.
These interviews are the more intimate moments in The Jump, where we see Darwish, for example, sitting by the pool and dipping her toes in the water. She contemplates the man’s death by recounting on her own experience paragliding from the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. “Jumping is already an adventure, even if you jump from one set of stairs,” she says in the film. “Death is not easy, even for someone who wants to die … There is euphoria in jumping. So this euphoria makes him forget where he is going to.”
Atshan examines another aspect – disaffection within a community experiencing violence and erasure at the hands of another. One form of survival, therefore, is solidarity and a sense of belonging. “The [Israeli] occupation is physical, geographic. But if we, ourselves, eradicate all possibilities of expressing and being ourselves, I believe that this increases the possibilities of suicide, because alienation is one of the worst feelings that one can experience,” she explains.
When it came to selecting the subjects for her film, Harb knew that she wanted to speak to the two women, who are highly respected in their fields. “I wanted to showcase women who were older than me, who I could look up to and could help me think through what life and death mean,” she says. In contrast to the narrator’s mechanical voice, the women offer a vivacity and warmth to the film, despite its serious subject.
Harb deftly intersperses poetic scenes from the Jordan Rift Valley with the women’s personal insights, as well as the narrator’s commentary, which transforms throughout, from a factual, nature documentary style, to a more inquisitive, curious character that is also trying to grasp trauma and existence.
By overlapping ideas of psychology with geology and temporality, Harb also considers the Jordan Valley’s existence as a site of early agriculture, proof of a long-standing relationship between people and land that stretches back in time.
At one point, the robotic voice asks, “Why would a man go all the way to Istanbul to fake a suicide as an accident? What an expensive way to die.” It almost sounds like a riddle, but speaks to the incomprehensibility of grief, particularly for a death unresolved.
But this incredulity extends into real life, particularly in the Middle East and places such as Palestine, where the psychological effects of life under occupation – including a blockade that limits people’s economic opportunities – are often overlooked and mental health services are underfunded. While official figures do not exist, suicides and suicide attempts, mostly by men, in the Gaza Strip, are reported on a weekly basis.
“Suicide is such a taboo subject, unless it is ‘heroic’, unless it is in the context of ‘for the nation’ or whatever is considered a higher cause. But suicide in and of itself is not something we address,” Harb explains.
Part of the reason she made The Jump is to look beyond “militaristic” visuals of Palestine. “I wanted to focus on the internal aspects of the occupation,” she says, to understand “what happens to the soul” under such conditions.
“Everyone who lives under occupation struggles with this, to wake up in the morning and try to find a way to be normal, to be hopeful, to not let darkness completely dim your spirit is something that you have to actively engage in. Resistance starts from a very internal place.”
The act of jumping, then, embraces other meanings – layered with resistance, escape, exhilaration, peace and freedom. The Jump concludes with a kind of tribute and an acceptance. “I imagine your jump,” the narrator says. “No fear of darkness. No hesitation. I remember your voice. Its calmness, persistence, elegance.”
The Jump is on view at Jameel Arts Centre until November 27. More information is available at jameelartscentre.org. The film can be viewed online until Monday, November 29, by registering for the artist‘s talk at Dar Jacir and Beirut Art Centre