Verena Prenner  Verena Andrea Prenner Onion Doll


Dheisheh Refugee Camp   I   2014

For 4 months I am living now in a Palestinian refugee camp. I had a few residency opportunities in cities around, like Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron. But I decided to live in the camp. The question “Are you crazy?” was coming from various sides, Palestinian, Israeli as well as Austrian friends asked me that.

The answer: “No”.

Refugee camps are unique social systems with outstanding collective cohesion and from the sociological view a very interesting field.

Furthermore, the camp is one of the most politically active societies in Palestine which is one of the reasons why many nights are marked by Israeli military operations and house searches, which repeatedly lead to riots and protests. Especially now during the ongoing Gaza War. The result: Stones are thrown as a protest from one side and tear gas bombs follow as an answer from the other side.

Sleepless in the camp

Awaken by the noise of the riots and tear gas explosions, I am sitting in my apartment. The windows are leaky and the tear gas is entering my place. The Motto: waiting, drinking tea, and hoping that the riots will end soon. For a second I ask myself “What the hell I am doing here?” and I start to reflect on the current situation. I am living in a Muslim-dominated society. Aside from a lot of very positive experiences, there are social attributes that are difficult to understand for a western socialized eye.

One example: is the handling of mixed-sex friendships. It is socially seen as not normal. Women to women, men to men. A reason why my landlord told me in the beginning, is that visits from male friends are not allowed in my apartment.

“Onion doll”

The smell of the tear gas remembered me to the advice of some friends who told me if you smell it, take an onion, cut it in the middle and inhale it. The essential oil of the onion will protect your body from absorbing the tear gas. A quick look in the kitchen, but there were no onions there.

Back on the old couch in my living room, a cup of tea in between my hands and my eyes staring out of the window into the dark. There are no street lights. Tensed I am listening to the noise of the riots in the narrowed streets around and I am trying to figure out the distance of the clashes to my place. Suddenly the idea of an onion doll appears. A combination of the “forbidden” and the “helpful”.

The next day, with 15 kg of onions, one banana and 4-meter wire, I m trying to build my doll in form of a sculpture. 35 degrees outside temperature, “the helpful”, the smell of the onions, is now becoming torture.

Weeks after the end of the Gaza War the daily life in the camp seems to be back and the nights are quieter but the picture of my doll as an artistic reflection and memory stays.