My nine photos from “Nine Lives” were taken between 2014-2020 in Israel-Palestine and Armenia, using a camera phone with no intention to ever share publicly. Minted in March 2022 on their own Manifold contract which was deployed in December 2021, I hesitated to share them at all. Aside from minimal descriptions in the metadata, this is the first time I am explaining them more in-depth, nearly two years later.
The title “Nine Lives” refers to the saying “a cat has nine lives.” This is inspired both by the cats in some of my photos (you will notice there are animals but no humans) as well as the many different lives I have lived.
Ineveitably, this is a collection about borders and survival and ethnic cleansing.
Scroll to the very bottom for links and a map showing where each photo was taken! At time of writing, all but one have been collected, and I am very grateful for my collectors and friends who have supported this part of me. There may also be a Part II on the way…
“light at the end of the tunnel” (1/9)
Akka/Akko is a northern coastal city and a UNESCO heritage site. This photo conveys a sacred sort of vibe for me. The graffiti on the very back wall reads “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic. I didn’t notice that at the time — I just saw the kittens and quickly crouched to capture them and this lighting.
“Allahu Akbar” translates directly to “God is [the] greatest” or “God is greater.” This phrase, also known as the Takbir, is said in every prayer.
Of course, this phrase has a negative connotation in much of the Western mind and media, where many hear it only associated with acts of violence. However, remember that there are many Arabic phrases that are demonized in this way, regardless of their true origins (for example: intifada) — this done even to the Arabic language as a whole. I once had a tote bag that read, in Arabic, “The only goal of this text is to spread panic among those who fear the Arabic language.”
When I finally noticed this graffiti later while looking through my photos, it felt like finding a treasure within a treasure. The light at the end of the tunnel. How many generations have these kittens lived there, how many wars have they seen?
“surviving genocide 101” (2/9)
In the fall of 2020, the historically Armenian land Artsakh was attacked by Azerbaijan, with support from their brother Turkey, both of whom express very clear genocidal intent towards Armenians. Azerbaijan receives most of their weapons from Israel, and like israel, they committed plenty of war crimes while controlling the media narrative. Artaskh was totally ethnically cleansed in the fall of 2023.
During this time in 2020, I returned to Armenia, because volunteers were needed. That’s when I took this photo, in the capital of Yerevan.
Armenian traditional dance is also a special part of the culture that is passed down, embodying a spirit of survival and cohesion and storytelling and celebration, even (or especially) in times of great existential threat.
Tel Aviv-Yafo, formerly Jaffa (Yafa), the largest city in Palestine until the 1948 Nakba when 95% of its population was ethnically cleansed. Today, Tel Aviv is perhaps the most popular, developed and international city in Israel. Many would describe it as a bubble from the rest of the country.
I know Palestinians whose families were expelled from Jaffa and are not allowed to return. Meanwhile, American Jews have the “right” to move into their old homes.
I took this photo on one of its beaches, the construction of tall buildings, maybe a hotel, reflected in the seawater. Is this progress?
“hanging by a thread” (4/9)
Hebron is one of the most contentious cities in Palestine. Though in the West Bank, there are (illegal) settlers who frequently attack the Palestinians, enabled by the army. It is also known as one of the locations with the starkest segregation.
I believe that I took this my first time in Hebron, on a tour led by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Isreali veterans who collect testimonies about experiences in the army and speak up against the occupation.
Titled “hanging by a thread” with the original description of “but it’s stronger than it looks.” Token number 4 because of the 4 cups.
“dogs without borders” (5/9)
This is in Meghri, along the Armenian-Iranian border, where you can stand on a cliff and look at Iran over the edge, within walking distance.
There are tons of stray dogs all over Armenia and they are the sweetest dogs you will ever meet. I fostered one while I lived there and fell in love with every one I encountered. But of course, many people hardly feed themselves, so it’s no surprise this one looks like it’s starving…
The original description of this read simply, “google JNF greenwashing,” and I would still encourage you to do so.
Greenwashing is the weaponization of environmentalism to hide or distract from behavior that is very much the opposite. (Similar to “pinkwashing,” which Israel also does.) In this case, the Jewish National Fund (JNF), uses environmentalism to cover up ethnic cleansing. All those trees in the distance were planted by the JNF, where Palestinian villages once stood before they were destroyed. This is to ensure that no one can return or rebuild, not even the descendants of families now living in more developed cities nearby, a drive away from the ruins of where they once lived. (Symbolically, the JNF often plants trees that are not native to the environment.)
One of these demolished villages is where I took this photo. And as you can see, there are still some signs of life there… even if the descendants whose families can still walk over the rubble of their homes are forced to live in a big neighboring city.
JNF engages in all types of greenwashing behavior all over Israel/Palestine, while upholding a very different reputation among its American Jewish donors. Worth looking into further.
“If art is suffering, then this is a fucking masterpiece.” This is all is wrote for the original description of this photo, taken in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, where Armenians have lived since at least the 4th century — though the population has been dwindling, particularly since the founding of Israel, and rapidly in recent years.
These informative posters about the Armenian Genocide were pasted up around (I believe) the 100th centennial of the genocide in April 2014, if not before. They were there when I first arrived there that summer, already torn down and vandalized, by extremist Jews, who routinely harass Armenians, as they believe Jerusalem should be only for them.
When I first went to Jerusalem in 2014, my distant family owned a business there, one of the few remaining. By the last time I went a few years later, it was turned into a Jewish souvenir shop. (Which there were already plenty of…)
While all eyes have been on Gaza in late 2023, extremist Jews have taken up arms to try to destroy and take over more of what little is left in the Armenian Quarter, as part of a shady strategic land deal, with support from the police. Armenians have been peacefully resisting and refusing to move while being threatened with bulldozers and attack dogs. (And we know, Israelis are not afraid to kill with bulldozers.)
I took this particular photo in 2018, four years after I first saw these posters. By then, they were even more destroyed, but still there. A metaphor.
The hypocrisy, the irony, of all this happening in a state that is founded on a narrative of genocide while it perpetuates another, all while not even recognizing the history of the Armenian genocide which inspired Hitler. And every day, the Armenians that have lived there since before that state existed, have to walk by these posters and be constantly reminded of this denial, this never-ending erasure. But somehow there is beauty in the survival.
Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark is said to have landed. One of the most ubiquitous symbols in Armenian culture, history and modern society. Visible from everywhere, but located beyond the Turkish border we cannot cross. A symbol of longing for the part of you that has been stolen by the people who still deny your existence. A constant reminder everywhere you look, but you cannot touch it. And you cannot detach yourself to stop the pain, because it is you. and so, you embody it.
That was my original description of this photo, and I’ll leave it at that.
I was wandering in the desert in southern Israel/Palestine and found these two structures of rocks, stacked up with painted eyes like these at the top.
I had never really spent much time in a desert, until I stayed in a kibbutz there. I thought deserts were boring and dead. The kibbutzniks (kibbutz residents) told me that people’s eyes adjust after living there for some time, and that soon I would see new colors that I didn’t see before. They were right. It was not long before I began to see the desert as beautiful and full of life.
One experience also stands out to me, a week or two after I first arrived to this desert kibbutz. I was invited to a “nature party,” where people gather and organize themselves in the middle of nature, often arriving at night to chill and eat and maybe sleep, then dancing through the sunrise. This is the type of party (on a smaller scale) that we heard about on October 7.
So this party was in a wadi in the middle of the desert. I went with new friends from both “sides.” And I had this weird acid trip where I could not stop thinking about genocide and ethnic cleansing and violence happening in the same place where people were dancing. I was focused on this vision while my friends were dancing, wondering how people could dance like nothing was wrong. It was not until morning, when we gathered at the top of a mountain to make coffee and watch the sunrise and paint, that things cleared and I understand everyone was just trying to live the life they were given. Everyone has realities they are trying to escape.
“Do you see what I see?” was my original description of this photo.
Keep in mind that maps are highly political. The drawing of borders and even the names of cities I’ve used above are inherently political. Maps you’ll find by searching on the internet are rarely neutral. Please also do not put too much weight into names I may have used above; always DYOR.
The locations of each photo are labeled according to token number. You will notice that many are very close to borders, calling them into question.
1- light at the end of the tunnel
2- surviving genocide 101 3- colonized 4- hanging by a thread 5- dogs without borders 6- existence is resistance 7- hypocrisy 8- untouchable 9- raw
Thank you again to all collectors and friends who have supported this collection. Part II has been on my mind for a while and will probably be coming soon 👀