The project was conceived around 2005 and developed by the artist into a full workshop-based programme, in conjunction with the Al Hoash Gallery in East Jerusalem. The first exhibition, Return of the Soul, opened on May 15 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Nakba. The work then travelled to Edinburgh Art Festival to critical acclaimAugust
8 - The Scotsman Review: Tragic flights and misguided missiles ) and also to Beirut, Lebanon and to the Darat Al Funun Gallery in Amman, Jordan , where it was jointly exhibited alongside work by Mona Hatoum.
The project's extensive groundwork was undertaken in refugee camps run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, with the support of the Welfare Association as the major sponsor but with the support and financial backing of many other organisations and individuals. It involved hundreds of refugees who participated in educational workshops and who helped create individual figures, each representing a real individual with a name, a story, a past, and whose only fate became a lifetime in a 'temporary' refugee camp.
From an original concept of creating suspended wax figures to symbolise the Nakba ( the term for the catastrophe in 1948 when 700,000 Palestinians were forced to abandon their homes and flee into lifelong exile), the project broadened into a deeper research-based programme resulting in a multi-media installation around the artist's investigation into the personal stories of the exiles.
Altogether 7,000 wax figures were assembled to create a 100:1 scale representation of the Palestine refugee numbers in 1948 Written and oral testimonies, a soundscape naming the hundreds of villages erased from the map of Palestine, video and photographic archive and contemporary material, a comprehensive lecture presentation and an artist's publication (see https://bit.ly/2uq33XM) accompanied the sculptural installation itself.
Discussions are presently underway for the Return of the Soul installation to be housed and displayed on a permanent basis.