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Wall Street is often esteemed as the nucleus of the international free market — and this week, Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar has introduced himself as a share. With a performance project in which he sells vials of his own blood, Jarrar has been engaging Wall Street’s tourists and traders with the discomfiting reality of human life as a commodity in war-driven capitalism.
“Blood for sale!” he announces to bustling passers-by in expensive suits, most of whom barely even stop to take notice of the odd announcement. On Wall Street, time is money.
Most of the 50 vials’ pricing follows the stock rates of America’s top 15 defense contractors. The prices began with $19.48 (the cost of Smith & Wesson stock), a haunting parallel to the 1948 Palestinian Exodus (often referred to as “the Nakba” or “Catastrophe”). After these eight vials sold, the remaining prices increased to mirror that of these high-profile defense contractors. Jarrar says the proceeds will be sent to hospitals in Gaza and Yemen.
Far from unfamiliar with the implications and realities of war and violence, the artist works and lives in Ramallah, Palestinian Territories. He grew up during the First Intifada, and in his youth, he worked as Yasser Arafat’s bodyguard and served in the Palestinian Presidential Guard.
The artist says he works with “aesthetics of violence,” but hadn’t utilized blood in his artwork before. Much of his past work explores the way that governments influence and support militarization and imperialism across the globe. He says when he encountered Eisenhower’s ominous warning of the military-industrial complex (in which a nation’s military and defense corporations align to formulate pro-war public policy), his first thought was to use blood to paint. Ultimately, he decided to make his own body a commodity in the United States’ heralded bastion of capitalism — Wall Street.
Jarrar told me on-site, “I’m here with this content [Wall Street], the content of capitalism — capitalism that benefits from disasters. This is disaster capitalism. These stones are built on the skulls of African Americans who were used as slaves in this market, and on the skulls of Indigenous people who were slaughtered and killed to have this huge monument.”
International tourists travel to this place, he says, “just to have selfies with stones, without thinking about the content, without thinking about the violence involved.”
Jarrar says he’s been asked by multiple interested customers if they could make donations without the blood exchange. To this, he says, they can make the donation themselves. The artist is, in every way, mimicking the rigid structure of capitalism.
“I don’t want to walk with blood in my hand,” one patron said, hoping to purchase the certificate without the obligation of the vial.
Jarrar gave his response: “As Americans, you pay taxes for this war machine — your government is a war machine. And you pay taxes to them. Believe me, there is some blood on your hands.”
He says after five days on Wall Street, selling his biological output Monday through Friday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, some of the traders and most of the vendors have started to recognize and befriend him. By early Friday morning, when the vials were reduced to 60% off, 27 of 50 had sold. I witnessed the 28th, right before the price went up to around $67, along with a number of traders and previous customers walking by and asking Jarrar, “How’s business today?”
While he hasn’t received any notably aggressive or negative feedback, he says there is a certain disparity in reactions when he brings up war crimes in Yemen versus those in Palestine. Regarding Saudi Arabian strikes in Yemen, Jarrar says, “You get some sympathy. But when it comes to Israel, a few of them changed their face and just left.”
“I’m doing this performance art because I’m trying to bring attention to the violence happening all over Earth because of the military industrial complex,” he says. “USA policy after World War II is just to make and produce more guns and produce violence all over the Earth, wherever they will find a market for their guns. When you make guns and you don’t have a market, who will buy these guns? They need to produce violence and war, so the people who are in the Middle East or Africa, or wherever, will buy these guns to kill each other.”
In militarized societies, the highest institutional powers are incentivized to propel war forward no matter the human cost. As he wrapped up his week, Jarrar says he’s had a number of productive conversations — “Now, you see, people are becoming more aware of what’s happening.”
Khaled Jarrar will be on Wall Street and Broad Street October 8–12 from 9:30 am–4:30 pm. Artifacts and accompanying documentation from Khaled Jarrar: Blood for Sale, will be on view at Open Source Gallery (306 17th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, South Slope, Brooklyn) from October 13-27, 2018. There will be an opening reception from 7-9pm on October 13. This performance will be live-streamed at the Al’Mamal Foundation for Contemporary Art in Ramallah, Palestinian Territories, on October 8 and October 12 (4:30-7pm, GMT +3, Jrs time).