Honorary Doctorates - Dr. Emily Jacir (2023)

In 2023 NCAD awarded its first Honorary Doctorate to mark considerable achievement in the fields of Art, Design, Education and Visual Culture.

Citation at the NCAD Conferring on 1 December 2023

Dr Emily Jacir: Honorary Doctor of Art and Design at NCAD

Today as we celebrate your achievements as graduates — and express thanks to all who have supported and guided you along the way — we also formally welcome a new member into our NCAD community.

Today we honour an artist who has become a valued friend of the college, collaborating with us on the important work of connecting NCAD to other communities and other contexts: helping us to engage in new conversations about the place and purpose of art and design in the wider world.

Emily Jacir is an artist of considerable renown — and we are delighted that she joins us today as the recipient of an honorary doctorate from NCAD. This is the highest award that we - at NCAD - can offer to mark brilliant accomplishments by individuals in our fields of practice. An honorary doctorate marks truly exceptional and sustained achievements that significantly contribute to the public good.

Emily has featured in many of the international art-world’s most high-profile exhibitions: Documenta, The Whitney Biennial, The Istanbul Biennial, and, notably, the Venice Biennale, at which she has presented work on five occasions. She has received some of the most prestigious awards and accolades in contemporary art, including the Hugo Boss Prize, presented by the Guggenheim Museum, and the Venice Biennale Golden Lion.

For many years, Emily has maintained strong relationships with artists and curators in Ireland — and in 2016, a major survey of her work — entitled Europa — was staged at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Such prizes and presentations attest to the power of Emily’s art to connect with audiences in multiple international contexts. Her wide-ranging practice — spanning film, photography, writing, sculpture, and more — is conceptual in its influences, political in its outlook and poetic in its artistic inclinations, often exploring, with care and subtlety, the complex histories and fractured geographies that continue to shape life for those who share her Palestinian background and identity.

From the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Emily has also lived for extended periods in Saudi Arabia, Italy and the United States. A biographical statement notes that she “lives and works around the Mediterranean” — a declaration that, like her work, expresses an open-minded, multi-faceted and inclusive spirit of belonging, while gesturing, unavoidably, to enduring, deeply-felt effects of displacement and division.

As the late Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said once noted, Emily’s art has, at times, sought to “slip through the nets of bureaucracies and nonnegotiable borders, time and space, in search not of grandiose dreams or clotted fantasies but rather of humdrum objects and simple gestures …”

In conferring Emily today as an Honorary Doctor of Art and Design at NCAD, we celebrate her work as an artist, but also highlight and praise the activities she has undertaken in supporting other artists. As Founding Director of the Dar Jacir Centre for Art and Research in Bethlehem — an artist-led initiative based in her family’s former home in the city — she established a vital hub of innovative learning and artistic experimentation.

Under conditions of extreme pressure and constraint, Emily and colleagues at Dar Jacir have created a space of artistic freedom and imaginative possibility: a place (as their mission statement proclaims) “to ask questions, exchange ideas, to dream and to grapple with our contemporary situation.” In her commitment to continuing such endeavours at Dar Jacir, Emily shares with NCAD a vision of creative practice as a force for good.

We warmly thank you, Emily, for joining us today and for accepting this award of an honorary doctorate. It is a pleasure and a privilege to welcome you into our NCAD community.

Citation written by Dr Declan Long and read by Professor David Crowley, School of Visual Culture, NCAD on 1st December 2023.

Presentation speech by Dr Emily Jacir on Receipt of Honorary Doctorate in Art and Design at the NCAD Conferring on December 1st 2023.

Professor Scott of University College Dublin, Professor Sarah Glennie of NCAD, Christine Donovan, Chairperson of NCAD, Registrar, Heads of School, staff of NCAD, friends, family and most importantly today’s graduating class: I am so very honoured to be here today and to have the privilege of sharing with you in this momentous occasion. Words are not adequate to express my deep and genuine appreciation to the National College of Art and Design Academic Council for honouring me today in such a significant and meaningful way, which I can assure you is of incalculable value for the continuation of my efforts as an educator, organizer and artist and fills me with renewed strength and courage.

Receiving this Doctorate today here in Ireland is one of the greatest honors of my life. And first and foremost I want to honor and thank my mother and father without whom I would not be standing here today. I am forever indebted to the courage of my parents who migrated fearlessly across countries from Bethlehem and taught us by example. Their sacrifices, and the risks they took, their hard work and their bravery opened up possibilities and opportunities for us which would have previously been unimaginable.

I cannot emphasize enough how much my family values academics and education. If my father could have done what he wanted in his life he would have been a professor. That was his dream. For him this is the highest and most honorable profession one can have and he always emphasized that no one deserves more respect than an educator. My mother wanted to be an architect and get her Masters. But given their life circumstances and the hardships they endured this was not even remotely a possibility. My father did not have the opportunity to go to college until his mid-30s, he was newly married with kids on the way, working a full-time job as was my mother, and yet he managed to get his B.A. He kept struggling so that eventually he got his masters degree, which was a major achievement given his circumstances.

Because of them, I know that it is possible to do anything, at any age and that it is never too late. Eventually my parents decided they would be willing to go and live in a country where they would be deemed “guest workers” and endure incredible hardships including being separated from their children, not being able to practice their religion, and much more. They accepted this with grace and dignity so that their children could have a better life and so that they could be able to send remittances back home. Most importantly, they wanted us to have a chance to have what my father couldn’t get until he was in his mid-30’s — a college education.

On this day of celebration, so opposite from the many incredibly difficult moments in which I walked against the grain, I am full of gratitude to all the people who have been part of this journey. In honouring me today, you not only honour me but you honour the many, many people with whom I have worked with, built friendships with, collaborated with and been associated with. And so when I say thank you, it is not only for myself but I also thank you for them, for us, and for our work and I can assure you that this day will remain dear to me and to us for a long time to come. I want to acknowledge the fundamental role these collaborations, relationships, and friendships have played in shaping not only collective projects but also my own personal intellectual, emotional, and spiritual journey and in making this world liveable.

My life’s work has been essentially to gather a community together which is forbidden from gathering. This has been a collective process, embodying continuing conversations which have been unfolding over decades. We have survived because of our friendships. And so if there was one thing I would impress upon you today, it is the importance of your friends - do not be alone and do not let the powers that be determine how we move. Especially now. For me personally art has allowed me to try to make some sense of the world – and to question, to explore, to make mistakes, and to counter the systematic segmentation of spaces and populations.. Art gave me a language in which I could speak and create my own terms. It is difficult to think about what kind of advice I would give to graduating students especially in the context of today’s horrific world events which continue to unfold all around us, while efforts to dehumanize us by any and all means possible continue today at an unprecedented and accelerated pace. Here are some thoughts: First and foremost you will not survive without your friends. Take risks. Embrace making mistakes and failing. I cannot emphasize that enough – take risks and make mistakes. I had an art professor that once told me to apply for things as often as brushing my teeth and I did. I have a giant stack of rejections to prove it. I am so deeply grateful for all those rejections as they only strengthened my belief in my work and what I wanted to do.

Be patient – not knowing what you are doing is actually a good thing. Trust the process. Take time – take time to think, take time to listen, take time to sit with things – do not respond immediately to things. Especially when the scale of a catastrophe is still unknown and still unfolding. Art-making occurs over years, sometimes decades and sometimes generations. Honor that. If you feel weak turn to your elders – they have much to teach. Honor them. Learn also from those younger then you – they have much to teach you. I have always had difficulty considering myself the professor in the room as I consider myself a forever student and am deeply grateful to every student I have ever had as I have learned from each one of them.

The most important relationship you will have as an artist is with yourself. Get into the habit of writing and sketching things down - cutting, copying, pasting, painting, making photographs, drawing – any means necessary to capture your ideas, your thoughts and your reflections. And not for anyone else – not for social media - but for yourself. Have a place to hold your ideas and have a relationship with your own work and thought processes. It is another way of seeing and thinking and most of all a way of seeing yourself think. Keeping a sketchbook is one of the roots of all art-making. Articulating your new and old thoughts is essential.

Finally I would like to acknowledge how especially meaningful it is to me to be receiving this Honorary Doctorate in Ireland. First because of the enduring history of solidarity between Ireland and Palestine. The steadfastness, perseverance and resistance of the Irish people for 800 years teaches us and allows us to see freedom on the horizon. We will never forget the support of so many people in Ireland on our behalf, just as Ireland does not forget the Choctaws who after enduring the Trail of Tears collected funds to support the Irish during the Potato Famine. I have had a long relationship with Ireland which has deeply impacted my life and work. I feel it is inside me. Recently I found a small scrapbook I made as a little girl in elementary school entitled “Ireland”. On the cover was a drawing I made of a ship and had written “an old Irish ship”. Looking at it now as an adult I see it representing shared histories of movement as migratory peoples and where for centuries, webs of social connections and communication were between the wider world and a particular village, such as Bethlehem or Donegal.

On page 13 of that booklet were two newspaper articles I had cut out and pasted inside: one article about Bernadette Devlin being shot and next to it an article announcing Bobby Sands’ victory in winning a seat as MP in the House of Commons during his seventh week of hunger strike. I am not really sure if a little girl, understood what those two people signified at that time or how she got taken with them but this continued into my teenage years as every march for Palestine included solidarity with South Africa and Ireland. I finally made it physically here hitchhiking and training it across Europe from Rome at 18 years old, and that stay sealed the deal. I want to acknowledge and thank the colleagues I have here who are people I have been working and conversing with for decades and without whom I would not be surviving the current moment – Duncan, Sarah G, Declan, Sarah P., Aideen, Jota, Willie, Conor, Gerard, Shane, David and too many more to list here you have been an integral part of my life and the source of so much strength.

Lastly, as I mentioned in 2016 at a lecture at IMMA in my opening comments – Ireland is the only place in Europe where you can say what you think and speak freely. I remain shocked at the events that occurred last week in Dublin. I urge you all to do everything you can to protect free speech in Ireland.

Thank you.

(L-R) Director Sarah Glennie and Doctor Emily Jacir, Doctor Emily Jacir, Doctor Emily Jacir, Director Sarah Glennie, Doctor Emily Jacir, Professor Mary Avril Gillan, Head of the School of First Year, Professor David Crowley, Head of the School for Visual Culture, Professor Donal Donoghue, Head of the School of Education, Professor Philip Napier, Head of the School of Fine Art. 

We Ate The Wind

Two-channel film installation, sound, 31’

Emily Jacir, 2023

ex libris  2010-2012

Installation, public project and book

photo: Roman März

© Emily Jacir 2012

Commissioned and produced by dOCUMENTA (13) with the support of Alexander and Bonin, New York and Alberto Peola Arte Contemporanea, Torino.

Untitled (SOLIDARIDAD) 2013

Performance (10m X 2m hand-painted mural), 5 sound pieces, wall text.

Courtesy of the artist

Photo: Renato Ghiazza

© Emily Jacir 2013