Emily Jacir’s Sexy Semite 2000 2002
Why do I have to read about this in the Daily Star of Lebanon, and not in the New York Times? From India Stoughton’s review of the book, “War and Other Impossible Possibilities: Thoughts of Arab History and Contemporary Art,” by art historian Gregory Buchakjian, which explores “some of the artworks produced in the [Middle East] region before 9/11 and since the attacks ignited ‘Islamophobia’ in the U.S.”
Particularly interesting in the context of perceived “terrorist” threats is a section on Palestinian artist Emily Jacir. Buchakjian cites Jacir’s superbly subversive “Sexy Semite,” which aims both to criticize the frequent misuse of the word “Semitic” to refer to Jewish people alone (when Arabs are also among the Semitic-speaking peoples) and to champion the right of return.
Jacir asked Palestinians to take out personal ads in New York’s “Village Voice,” seeking an Israeli partner as a way to facilitate an otherwise impossible journey home. Examples include: “You stole the land. May as well take the women. Redheaded Palestinian ready to be colonized by your army” and “100% Semite and Palestinian. Total knockout. Seeking Jewish Male, any race, to tour my homeland.”
The reaction to the piece was perhaps more illuminating than the exercise itself – the third time that Jacir executed the work, the ads were characterized as a terrorist threat by local media and a spokesman for the Israeli consulate described the work as “guerilla warfare.”
I see that Jacir has said this about the work:
I wanted to pollute the space of the personal-ads section, so that one issue of The Village Voice personals section would be full of Palestinians looking for Jewish mates. The participants adhered to guidelines such as bringing up the Right of Return, highlighting the fact that Palestinians who are indigenous to that land do not have the right to return to their own country while any Jew on earth, from any country, of any race, has the right to “return.” …Another guideline was to use the word “Semite” to describe themselves. This addressed the fact that in the American context “Semite” only pertains to Jews, but we are Semites… During the infiltration of the February Valentines Day issue of the Village Voice the media took note. They had no idea what it was. They thought it was a terrorist threat, that Palestinians were going to kill Israelis. Stories about this so-called terrorist activity appeared in three publications that I know of: US News & World Report called it “Fear Factor: Palestinian Valentines or Ambush.” The New York Post’s headline read “West Banky Panky in Personal Ad Blitz.”
In fairness to the Times, it has profiled Emily Jacir. But I cannot find any reference to the Sexy Semite work in the Times.