Sarah Wood

Sarah Wood

4 October – 31 October

For Cultural Purposes Only

2009, 8’16”



To coincide with Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s multi-media installation, And yet my mask is powerful (2016), in our Eastcastle St. space, the final film in Carroll / Fletcher Onscreen’s short season of Sarah Wood’s films is For Cultural Purposes Only (2009) (courtesy of the Artist and Animate Projects).

In an age dominated by the moving image what would it feel like to never see an image of the place that you came from?

The Palestinian Film Archive contained over 100 films showing the daily life and struggle of the Palestinian people. It was lost in the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982. Here interviewees describe from memory key moments from the history of Palestinian cinema. These scenes are drawn and animated. Where film survives, the artist’s impressions are corroborated.

“When you say to someone ‘you’re history’ it doesn’t mean that you’re part of it; it means that you’re obliterated. That’s what history means.” From For Cultural Purposes Only.

“‘For cultural purposes only, no commercial value’ is the phrase that is written on customs forms when films prints are sent internationally. The declaration is intended to speed a film’s journey through the customs process. Some time ago, I came across an article that the filmmaker Annemarie Jacir had written about her experience of curating a festival of Palestinian film in New York. In the article she talked about the practicalities of curating, and the difficulties of physically getting material across the world to screen in the US. Films sent from Palestine were simply going missing in transit. One film lost in the post might seem like a mistake but after a little detective work she realised films that she was certain had been sent from Palestine weren’t making it through Israeli customs. She realised that what singled the missing films out was their customs declaration. Instead of being something that facilitated movement, the simple statement ‘for cultural purposes only’ was being read and used as a means of gauging the content of the package and preventing their movement out of the country. I was very struck by this story, not only for the inhibition of the movement of art but also the added layer of meaning that the phrase had gathered. One of the striking things about the conflict between Israel and Palestine is the use of language by both sides to blur understanding and control the narrative of the conflict. I’m thinking, for instance, of the use by Israeli officialdom of ‘targeted killing’ to mean an assassination, or the use of ‘martyr’ by Palestinians to describe the same event. Both are euphemisms, both are used to control the effect of the act. Seeing the phrases ‘for cultural purposes only’ reinterpreted in this conflict made me question how hard it would be to create any art in the context of this double-think… [more here]” Sarah Wood (courtesy Dazed Digital).


Sarah Wood discussing For Cultural Purposes Only in The Guardian

“I am an artist who works with found footage, making films from other people’s films – an act of reclamation and reinterpretation. In the west, this footage is ubiquitous. It wouldn’t be hard for me, for instance, to find an image of the place I come from to show to a stranger; I just have to know where to look. So imagine what it would be like if every image of 1960s London, or of pre-war France, or Soviet Russia, vanished overnight. Imagine there was no footage of your home town. In an age dominated by the moving image, how would that vanishing act make you feel?…”

The full article can be read here.

Courtesy The Guardian.

A 2009 update: Drawing Reality

I’m sitting indoors, looking out of the window at the whited-out world. A sudden snowfall has shocked Britain to a standstill. Everyone’s complaining. Trains don’t work, buses don’t work, things are going wrong. Commentators are scandalized on television as it’s revealed that Britain is running out of salt to grit the roads. More salt will have to be mined! Standstill!

Outside the snow world looks still and calm. Sound is muffled by the snow. Outside sounds like a thud. The language of TV panic seems entirely at odds with this stillness.

It’s only a few weeks ago since I watched Tzipi Livni announce on TV that Israel was to ‘change the reality’ of Gaza. As suddenly as this snowfall altered Britain, the lives and landscape of Gaza were altered by military action. Reality was ‘changed’. The snow has now nudged Gaza off the headlines. TV landscape has been whited out too.

The full update can be read here

Courtesy Animate Projects.



Sarah Wood works with the found object, particularly the still and moving image, as an act of reclamation and re-interrogation. She works mainly with the documentary image to interrogate the relationship between the narrating of history and individual memory.  Recently she’s been focusing on the meaning of the archive, in particular the politics of memory, asking not only why some objects are preserved while others are ignored but also why preservation is made at certain historical moments.  Wood also work with artists’ film as a curator.  With Selina Robertson she co-founded Club des Femmes,  a positive female space for the re-examination of ideas through women’s art.


Athos, 2016

Boat People, 2016

Murmuration x 10, 2015

I Am A Spy, 2014

Three Minute Warning, 2012

For Cultural Purposes Only, 2009

The Angel of History, 2008

The Book of Love, 2008

I Want To Be A Secretary, 2006

Surrender, 2005

Manifesto For Love, 2003

Living Space, 2003

More details here.


Sarah Wood’s website

BFI article discussing I Am A Spy, Three Minute Warning and Murmuration x 10

“I am writing these notes during a time of war, in a country that’s at war, unofficially. Britain did not declare war on Afghanistan under the Taliban in 2001 or Iraq under Saddam Hussein in 2003. It has not officially declared war on another country since the 1940s. War, it would seem, has shifted from a state of legality to a state of being: a kind of banally ubiquitous constant as Orwell describes above in the fiction of Nineteen Eighty-four… [read more here].”  From Sarah Wood’s unpublished artist’s notes on I Am A Spy and other recent works (courtesy The Essay Film Festival).

“For my part, I am concerned with retracing the steps that led to our current visual framing and to express the near-hidden history that used the experience of British birdlife and its habitat as a frame for the way British surveillance has been conducted in the century just past, and how it is still conducted in the 21st century. With its own ironic inversion, this project is also a questioning of how we, as a surveilled society, behave when we ourselves watch the freed-up movement of birds… [read more here].”  Sarah Wood (courtesy of Resurgence & Ecologist).

Dazed Digital Interview 

Sight & Sound article 

Animate interview discussing For Cultural Purposes Only

Animate – For Cultural Purposes Only film page 


Director – Sarah Wood

Illustration – Woodrow Phoenix

Animation – Kate Anderson

Photography  -Ruanne Abou-Rahme

Cartography – Simon Deeves

Soundtrack – Basel Abbas

Editor – Lucy Harris

Research – Kate Daniels

Camera – Campbell

Online Editor – Sue Giovanni

Sound – Andy Coles

Executive Producers Jacqui Davies & Gary Thomas

Extract from Children Nevertheless © Khadijeh Habashneh

Extract from Far From the Homeland © Kais Al-Zubaidi

Extract from Leaving Jerusalem by Railway (Louis Lumiere, 1897), Courtesy of the Prelinger Archive, (

Extract from Screen Traveller: Damscus and Jerusalem (1926), Courtesy of the Prelinger Archive, (

Text – Mustafa Abu Ali, Palestinian Cinema Group Manifesto, Edward Said

Title – Courtesy of Annemarie Jacir taken from her essay of the same name

Thank you: Mustafa Abu Ali, Abigail Addison, Sonia Bridge, Nick Denes, Nicky Haire, Bridget Hannigan, Shadia Nasralla, Idit Nathan, On Sight, Judy Price, Ali Smith

Courtesy: Animate Projects