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Verena Prenner  Verena Andrea Prenner Onion Doll

Humor needs the human, Onion doll the woman

Dheisheh Refugee Camp   I   2014

For four months now I have lived in a Palestinian refugee camp. The question “Are you crazy?” came from all sides, from Palestinian, Israeli and Austrian friends. The answer, “No”.

Refugee camps are unique social systems with an outstanding collective cohesion and an exciting field of research in sociological terms.

Because of the political stance in the camp, many nights are shaped by Israeli military operations and raids, which continue to trigger riots. The consequence: One side throws stones and is answered by tear gas all the way to live ammunition from the other.


Sleepless in the camp. Woken by the noise of the riots and the tear gas explosions, I sit in my flat. The windows are draughty, gas intrudes. The motto: Wait and see and hope that the riots will end soon.

For a second I ask myself: “What the hell am I doing here?” and I begin to reflect the situation. I am living in a Muslim dominated society. Alongside many very positive experiences, there are social aspects that my mind, socialized in a Western culture, finds hard to grasp.

An example: friendships between men and women. Socially it is still not seen as normal and quickly tainted with the attribute of “sex”. Women with women, men with men. Which is why my landlord told me, when I moved in, that visits of male friends were not permitted in my flat.


The smell of the tear gas reminds me of an advice of friends to halve an onion and inhale its volatile oils. They supposedly protect the body from taking in the tear gas. A short look into the kitchen, there were none.

Back on the old sofa in my living room with a cup of tea in my hands, I stare out of the window into the darkness. Here there are no street lamps. Tense, I listen out for the noise of the riots in the narrow lanes of the camp and try to gauge the distance of the clashes to my accommodation.

Suddenly I see the image of an onion doll before me. A combination of what is forbidden and what is helpful.

The next day I go to the market. Back with 15 kilograms of onion, one banana and four meters of wire, I attempt to build my doll as a sculpture. At an outdoor temperature of 35 degrees Celsius, the supposedly helpful smell of onions now turns into pain.


Weeks after the end of the Gaza War, everyday life seems to have returned to the camp and the nights are quieter again. But the image – the photograph of my sculpture – as an artistic reflection and memory remains.

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