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Fall 2008 75 Joseph Shahadi is a Ph.D. candidate in Performance Studies at New York University. A 2004 winner of the Performance Studies Award, he writes on the intersections between contemporary performance, politics, and culture. He has co-convened seminars on Arab theatre and performance at the American Society for Theatre Research in 2006 and 2007. A Brooklyn-based performance artist, his work has been produced in New York, regionally, and internationally. “Traps of the Visible” Joseph Shahadi [T]he age of the photograph is also the age of the revolutions, contestations, assassinations, explosions, in short, of impatience, of everything which denies ripening. –Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida 93-94 Suicide attacks, as they have evolved in the Middle East in the late twentieth century, famously employ photography (and videography, a detailed exploration of which lies just outside the scope of this essay) to represent itself and its practitioners. Focusing on a close analysis of the martyr poster of Reem al-Raiyashi, I will argue that photography may function to both represent and embody absence as a performance strategy that stages the Palestinian body in relation to the Israeli State. The sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar has written, “[A Palestinian suicide attack] has four constituent dimensions: a relationship with the Self, with the Other (family, society, or Israeli enemy), with the world, and with the sacred.”1 I suggest these relationships, which extend out from a central, violent absence of the Palestinian suicide bomber, are facilitated by the use of photography as a performance practice and that Reem al-Raiyashi’s martyr image typifies this dynamic in a particular, gendered way. While not the first woman to perform this act in Palestine,2 al-Raiyashi’s suicide is worth studying for two reasons: she was the first woman to undertake such a mission on behalf of Hamas, a previously entirely male enterprise, and she was the first mother to do so, posing with her three year old son Obedia on her martyr poster (see figure 1).3 The various markers of al-Raiyashi’s identity inferred from her photograph—woman, mother, Palestinian, and finally, “terrorist,” a contested term, especially in the context of Palestinian/ Israeli politics4 —makes her martyr image a nexus of competing, if ambiguous, representations. The Mother In The Martyr Poster Taken in advance of her suicide mission and disseminated after,5 al-Raiyashi’s 76 Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism photograph is shocking in its conflation of maternal love and violence.6 Palestine itself has been portrayed by Palestinians as a woman/mother, a representation that is rooted in the modern Arabic literary tradition wherein sons long to reunite with the homeland and defend her from invaders, a portrayal Professor ofArabic Culture Carol Bardenstein views as a manifestation of the long tradition of idealized, feminine “Others” in Arabic cultures. She notes, “Those that have emerged within the contemporary Palestinian context are most pointedly shaped by the specific experience of occupation and resistance.”7 So, it is not unheard of for images of women and mothers to appear in the iconography of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.8 Nevertheless, Reem al-Raiyashi’s martyr image generated a furor of Fig. 1. Reem al-Raiyashi’s Martyr Poster. (2004) (Photographer unknown.) Fall 2008 77 discourses about the relative incompatibility of maternity with acts of violent selfdestruction and the proper role of women’s subjectivity in relation to systems of power. However, surrendering to the temptation to focus only on the central figure of this carefully composed image—the mother and child—to the exclusion of the other elements of the portrait would occlude the vectors of force that describe the occupation of Palestine, which is the material context for its production. I argue that the dimensions of a suicide attack suggested by Khosrokhavar—Self, Other, the sacred, and the world—are materialized in this photograph. Therefore, I will frame my analysis around these four dimensions, represented by the landscape, the Hamas headband, the child, and finally Reem al-Raiyashi herself. The photograph’s landscape fixes the context of the image in a fantastic, imaginary space. The green of the background, acid and spring-like, is mouthwateringly arti...


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