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The One That Got Away

The Circus (2)

005 / 24 October 2013

The one that got away

The Circus




I am looking for colours in the smallest details when in fact the bigger picture is hazy. Dust particles linger in the air as the aftermath of destruction resists the pull of gravity. I sit down for coffees and teas and friends recounting details of how they walked through gunfire, the horrific sounds of drones, and the way neighbours came together to protect each other. All the things I have missed, all the things I did not witness.


I can't begin to bridge the gaps between what I remember, what I am seeing now and what actually happened. Struggling to find myself in any narrative, I am caught in a mode of abstraction. The truth is I have spent the last two years learning how to take photos in Canada and the United States so I could come back and document this moment. My expectations are enormous as I try to make up for lost time, arriving at the anti-climax, after the damage has already been done. But now that I am here, I no longer feel the urgency to record things. The reality of the bigger picture is obstructing my understanding of this situation, so I lose myself in the distances of a telefocus lens and a newly acquired macro lens, which zooms into the veins of the tree leaves, the cracks in the stones and the edges of the pavement. It is amazing how one can look so deeply into something so as to not see it at all.


I walk over to the 'Friends Boys' football field to admire the leftover tent of the Russian Circus. Today it is less of a tent and more of a skeleton of metal rods and wires.  It almost feels like yesterday was the summer of 2000 and the Russian Circus was coming to town. Excitement was in the air, for this was one of the new benefits of the Oslo era, where international performers finally made their way to Ramallah to put on large-scale events. Somehow, the Russian Circus was the ultimate mega event, equally appealing for grown ups and kids, teenagers and university students.  On the surface it looked like things were normal. And when things are normal you need a freak show to stay entertained. But in fact, I realize now the freak show was only about to begin. 


I stood here three years ago and watched them as they installed the infrastructure of the circus tent. Looking at it today it is almost like that moment was frozen in time – a picture of an event in progress that had all the promise of wonder and amazement: Ultimate Entertainment. The monumental structure of the tent was kept intact in the middle of the football field, suspended in time: a living and breathing photograph that everyone can view. Now, the meaning of the picture has changed; no longer a promise for an event, but a tragic reminder that something was never realized, never fulfilled, never materialized.


Why have they not removed it? Why did they decide to keep it?


When I squint my eyes, the leftover circus structure, the football field and the Israeli settlement behind it collapse into one another. I am reminded that both happiness and play are temporarily suspended in the field.  As one of the ruins of the Al Aqsa Intifada, it is a display of disappointment pointing to the unfulfilled desires of that Oslo era of peace, all of the false expectations that we convinced ourselves to believe – self governance, independence and peace.


But this was only one of the many sites in Ramallah that had remained unfixed, for it was not yet the time to rebuild. The Palestinian Authority preserved the destruction of the shelled police station and Arafat's Complex in the Mukatah. Now elevated to the status of ruins, they need to be kept intact for a much larger viewing audience of photographers, artists, journalists and writers just like myself, who can still come and document the event as if it had only happened yesterday. Images of these sites circulated widely, prompting visits from politicians, diplomats, activists and tourists who have an opportunity to experience the destruction first hand. After all, there is something very powerful about reliving an image for yourself.


Days pass by, and then the days turn into months. My eyes adjust to the sites of trauma. I can see things for what they are. Months pass by, and then the months turn into years. I notice that I no longer see anything. To survive the place, I needed to be able to walk past the trauma without noticing it.


However, I still remember my long walks, my viewing rituals into the sites of Ramallah. Still, the image of the remains of the Russian Circus tent in the middle of the 'Friends Boys' football field somehow lingers in my head. I must go down and photograph it now – who knows if it is still there?


I arrive at the location only to realize that this Circus has finally left town.



A special thanks to Toleen Touq for her support.

About the author

Shuruq Harb

Shuruq Harb is a visual artist and writer based in Ramallah, Palestine. Her work has been exhibited internationally, most notably at Ikon Gallery, Istanbul Biennial, Gwangju Biennale. She co-founded a number of independent initiatives: ArtTerritories, an online publishing platform, and 'The river has two banks' an ongoing initiative connecting artists across Jordan and Palestine.