The photographs exhibited in Contested Histories are visible records of British colonialism and imperialism in Mandate Palestine. As Keeper of the Palestine Archaeological Museum, JH Iliffe was an important member of the British Mandate Government and his photographs also reflect his privileged position.
Iliffe worked closely with staff and colleagues of many different religious, political, and cultural backgrounds, and was dedicated to the collection, preservation and display of the past for all people of Palestine. However, one of the key terms of the British Mandate was to provide access to the archaeological past of Palestine to members of the League of Nations. This provision effectively turned the archaeological past of Palestine into a commodity for exploitation, and represents indigenous peoples as unable to care for their own past.
It is important for us to reflect on the way in which the dominant colonial viewpoint of Mandate Palestine influenced Iliffe’s photographic practice. As you explore Contested Histories it is worthwhile to consider how colonial voices, and the voices of the colonised, can change our interpretations of photographs, and history.