“Biennales are often arenas for monumental spectacles - big canvases, flashy sculptures, frenetic installations. With over 60 biennales and triennales now taking place around the world, it can sometimes seem as if the world has become one vast exhibition venue and art market, with cities competing to stage ever more elaborate exhibits to lure the international art world. But as the locations become more varied, it can also seem as though the artwork, as well as the curatorial approaches, increasingly represent the homogenisation of art leading to the flattening of cultural diversity under the dictatorship of the international art market.
It is not easy to stand out in this increasingly crowded calendar. In addition, the conditions of cultural production under occupation make it hard to justify taking an extravagant approach to curating a biennale in Palestine. As a result, the RIWAQ Centre for Architectural Conservation has taken the decision to offer the public a quieter register through which to engage with the contemporary cultural landscape of Palestine. The 3rd RIWAQ Biennale will be for and about 50 Palestinian villages. The selection of these fifty historic centres was based on their architectural significance and, most importantly, on their well-preserved architectural fabric.
“The starting point of the Riwaq Biennale has always been to advance RIWAQ’s aim of protecting and promoting cultural heritage in Palestine. Another unusual feature of this Biennale is that it is named after an organisation rather than a place. To emphasis this link with the organisation, the Biennale is structured around a series of visits, gatherings and projects in these 50 historic centres identified by RIWAQ as being a priority to develop. In partnership with local institutions and communities, the aim is to use the Biennale as a way of creating opportunities for achieving the organisation’s central goal of protecting, utilising and promoting cultural heritage in Palestine through tangible and intangible projects of rehabilitation and revitalisation.”
Khalil Rabah, The RIWAQ Biennial Director, October 2009, the 3rd RIWAQ Biennial Opening Statement.
RIWAQ started its Biennale tradition in 2005. That year, RIWAQ celebrated fifteen years by opening its working sites to the local and international community. A curated one day program toured the West Bank and included a series of community-based celebrations, heritage tours, talks, and gastronomical experiences.
RIWAQ’s second Biennale was held from October 17- October 24, 2007. Events started with a two day video art screening program from Lebanon and Egypt at al Kasaba Theater and Cinematheque in Ramallah. Participants were taken on excursions to Salfeet, Bruqin, Hebron, Jenin, and Qalqilya to visit RIWAQ’s projects as well as sites of cultural and political significance.
A symposium, which was the main activity of the Biennale, took place at Birzeit University on October 22 and 23, with four primary sessions centered on conservation, planning, architecture, and geopolitics and art. The list of participants included architects, artists, conservation architects, planners, art curators, thinkers, theorists, and practitioners from twenty different countries.