Karim Kattan is a 27-year-old Franco-Palestinian scholar, writer and entrepreneur. He may have other hidden talents but then this is already a lot to say about just one person. Born in Jerusalem, Karim was raised in a family highly rooted in France even if he wasn’t naturalized until his teenage years. For his studies, he entered a ‘Frencher than French’ institution and spent four years at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon, an elite university. There, he chose Kenneth Anger as a dissertation subject. Let us only imagine the face on the head master… After graduating, he started to write a thesis entitled “Aspects of the literary image of the desert in post-colonial literature” which he is currently working on. Karim is also a writer, contributing to i-D France’s website or amazing literary magazine The Paris Review. You got it, Karim’s the shit and then he decided it wasn’t enough. In January 2015, Karim launched the el-Atlal project, a residency program based in his home country, in the town of Jericho. But he’ll tell us more about that in the interview.
What was you desire when creating el-Atlal?
el-Atlal came from a desire to renew the way we create art in Palestine and to change the way people see Palestine. Instead of focusing on the country as a whole, we wanted to emphasize the local level, the town of Jericho itself. We want to attract artists from all walks of life to Jericho; even those who have no prior knowledge or interest in Palestine. We’re hoping to host groundbreaking artists and thinkers from Palestine and elsewhere. el-Atlal aims to build a stone residence which will blend with the landscape of Jericho. We are already implementing a program of residencies in order to initiate a dynamic relationship between its residents, the people of Jericho and the city itself.
How come you chose Jericho?
We never really decided on Jericho: it just had to be there. If I had to sum it up I’d go with two reasons. The first is that we wanted to emphasize the fringes of creation. Usually, cultural production is found within the golden triangle that is made up of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah. We wanted to be outside of this, in order to provide new images of Palestine. The second reason is that Jericho is unlike any other city in Palestine, or the world for that matter. It is a green oasis, the lowest city in the world, and the oldest city in the world. Jericho is an inspiring city: we want it to become a blossoming place of contemporary creation.
Who is “we?”
A team of 10 people quickly joined me in el-Atlal. Most of them are close friends. Some are Palestinian; others are French or come from other countries. I think what attracted us all to the project was the idea of a real possibility. They felt there was real impact to be done. Some of them weren’t necessarily interested in Palestine, but rather by the fact that something of this scale and something ground-breaking could be done.
Jéricho – Mont de la Tenation
How is el-Atlal taking shape today?
We launched a crowd funding campaign during an opening night in Paris in January 2015. 400 people attended and we raised 16k. This gave a great head start to our project! Last year, we prepared our pilot residency in October, which was supposed to end with the el-Atlal art days – 2 days of artistic activities around town. We had to cancel because of the situation in Palestine. We did host a short residency in Amman with Algerian visual artists Adel Bentounsi and essayist Wassyla Tamzali. It was a great success as a pilot residency.
What is the balance you found in getting the residency program started, keeping in mind the architectural project?
It’s a bit of a juggle. These are two different timeframes, calendars, and budgets of course. But they both nourish one another. We have been holding artists-in-residency programs since last year. We hope that by having more programs that are longer and more visible, we can already create an interest in Jericho and in our project. This gives us legitimacy in the town but also on an international level. This, in turn, will allow us to go forward with the fundraising for the building. In the meantime, AAU ANASTAS, who are the architects of the project, are continuing their research process in stone engineering, which is at the basis of the stone residence.
Tell us more about your current open call and the residency to come?
We have just released our open call for a residency program in October 2016. We’re very excited to see how it goes! We will soon release a catalogue of what we’ve done in 2015. For 2016, we are organizing our residency in partnership with the Fondation pour la Culture et l’Éducation Franco-Arabe. We formed a jury composed of different figures from the worlds of art, literature and academia who will chose our residents. We are hoping to have artists, writers and academics work together during the residency.