History / Hystery – Mona Gazala

History / Hystery  by Mona Gazala Solymos

Below the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, reached by a narrow stairway, there is a small cave that is reputed to be the birthplace of Christ.  My mother, who was raised a few miles away in Ramallah, is familiar with the place.  The cave has been turned into a chapel, with draperies, candles, icon and other decorations masking the bare rock.

In the basement below Jean Brandt’s gallery, I likewise endeavored to erect a shrine in the dank, broken-windowed cat-piss smelling cinder-blocked and sewer piped storage room.  It was a shrine to the female history of my Palestine family and to motherhood in
general.  The walls were lined with pictures of draped middle-eastern women and images of my mother and grandmother.  There were votives burning and a recording of a story from my maternal family’s origin. . .the surname, dating to the 1700’s, originated from the name of the first woman in the family.

One wall of the room was papered with pages ripped from an Arabic-English dictionary, interspersed with pages from Dr. Lamaze’s amusing little book, Painless Childbirth.  The word “painless” appeared in other images around the room, like a running gag.  And a favorite page of mine on the wall, the title page of part two, features a singular statement that, despite Dr. Lamaze’s best efforts, becomes a rhetorical question:
“WHAT IS CHILDBIRTH WITHOUT PAIN?”

Mona Gazala Solymos
May 8 – June 7, 1998
History / Hystery

Story 2
Acre is the name of an ancient city on the coast of the Mediterranean
which is surrounded by massive stone walls that have existed since
before the time of the Crusaders.

Back in the 1790’s, there was this girl named Hishmeh who came from
a family of stonemasons in Ramalleh, and shetraveled with her family
to the city of Acre when they were called on to do repairwork to the old
stone walls.

While she was in Acre, she met this young man by the name of Halil,
and eventually the two were married.

And when the repairwork to the city walls was finished Halil followed
Hishmeh and her family back to Ramelleh, where they spent the rest
of their days.

Now, the thing of it is, that even though Arab society is typically patriarchal,
Hishmeh became the point of reference for her entire family from then on,
because she was the hometown girl in Ramelleh and everyone there knew
her, while her husband Halil was just an outsider.

So Halil was referred to mainly as Hishmeh’s husband, the kids were known
as Hishmeh’s kids, then came Hishmeh’s grandkids and so on, until eventually
the whole clan was named after her, and Hishmeh became their surname.

And that’s how my mom came to be descended from the Hishmeh family,
which was originated by a woman.
Mona Gazala Solymos
History / Hystery

an installation

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