Cultural Diplomacy, Photography and Biblification in Late Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine

    • Nice November 2018
    • Presentation speakers
      • Sary Zananiri, Leiden University, The Netherlands


    Cultural diplomacy is often taken to be a deployment, by a government or non-government organisation, of various cultural products in aid of fostering closer relations. Clark (2014) defines four actors in his approach to meaning-making in cultural diplomacy: policy makers, agents (both institutional and individual) who implement cultural diplomacy, cultural practitioners and cultural consumers. Palestine, heavily burdened by religious connotations, garnered significant Western interest from early photographers, preceding many of the organisations associated with cultural diplomacy. Arguably, they were forerunners of such associations. Later, Western photographers became tethered to organisations like École Biblique, British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and the American Colony. While such organisations hold ambiguity with regard to cultural diplomacy (Palestinians were not the primary recipients of culture), they were, to varying degrees, instrumental in bridging the gap between ‘Christian’ West and the so-called ‘Holy Land’. Biblification is a major preoccupation for theorists of photography in Palestine. Analysing biblification within the context of cultural diplomacy, it becomes apparent that the relationship between agents, cultural practitioners and consumers is murky. While photographers travelled to Palestine, their cultural production was for a Western consumer, excising Palestinians from this network. Biblified cultural production, aimed at the lucrative Western market, is as much about a public shaping demand as it is about photographers (and later photographers at the behest of agents) producing a familiarised biblical landscape for Western consumers. The process of biblification can be read as cultural producers making the Palestinian landscape legible to Western cultural consumers by excising Palestinian modernity and, of course, the potential market of Palestinian consumers who might be interested in Palestine’s modernity. In considering the role of such production, the object of cultural diplomacy effectively becomes vested in a circular model that saw European photographers producing images in Palestine for European cultural consumption. This highlights the colonial subtexts of this circular model of cultural diplomacy, and its utilisation of biblification, as a tool indigenous erasure.