Tom Nicholson

Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah)

Site-Specific Installation, 2012-2014

Khalidi Library

Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah) begins with the remarkable presence of Australian Eucalyptus trees in the ancient Ma'man Allah/Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem. These 'River Red Gums' originated in early Zionist plantations, but are famous in Australia for their connection to Barmah, where the Cummeragunja walk-off took place in 1939, a landmark act of anti-colonial resistance.


Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah) is both a walk and a proposition. It is a walk with 69 stations: simultaneously a walk through a display of Eucalyptus seeds in the Khalidi Library (through a take-away 'guidebook'); a textually described walk from one Eucalyptus to another through the Ma'man Allah cemetery; and an imaginary itinerary through the histories intersecting the cemetery, to which these trees bear witness.


Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah) is also a proposition. A proposition for a future monument described at the work's end: a way to do this walk again, but in another landscape.


More about the project


Comparative monument (Ma'man Allah) is a work in progress that has evolved in a sibling relationship to Comparative monument (Palestine), 2012. The work begins with the remarkable and dominating presence of Australian Eucalyptus trees in the Ma'man Allah/Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem, Palestine's oldest and most important Islamic cemetery. These 'River Red Gums' that now cover the cemetery originate in early Zionist Eucalyptus plantations, but are famous in Australia for their connection to an area of Southern Australia where the Cummeragunja walk-off took place in 1939, a landmark act of anti-colonial resistance.


As a walk with 69 stations, Comparative monument (Ma'man Allah) is a textually described itinerary that moves from one Eucalyptus to another through the entire contemporary site of the cemetery. This walk is accompanied by a sequence of archival photographs of the site, which become a way to indirectly describe the histories that crisscross the site, encompassing the remarkable Mamilla Pool (built by Herod the Great, since 1948 drained of water, a massive void in the middle of the cemetery); the site's manifold significance in the events leading up to 1948, when the cemetery became part of Israeli West Jerusalem; the destruction of half the cemetery to create Independence Park, inaugurated in 1959 by David Ben-Gurion; and the cemetery's contemporary status as a contested site for a Museum of Tolerance (an array of histories to which the monumental Australian Eucalyptus trees stand as unlikely witnesses).


The work is also a proposition: seeds are collected from each of the 69 Eucalyptus tree. These seeds are for planting. They are for a replica of the configuration of Eucalypts at the Ma'man Allah cemetery, an exact double of their placement, inserted back into an Australian landscape, part exile, part homecoming, a map of the cemetery grown into or amidst a forest of Eucalypts in their own place, one forest cleaving another. The Eucalypts become an itinerary, a sequence from one station to another. It is a way to do the walking in the cemetery again, but in another landscape, inscribed with other strata of history.


Comparative monument (Ma'man Allah) is an attempt to articulate the historical links and echoes between Jerusalem and Australia. Drawing on the symbolic importance of trees in Israel and Palestine, and in Australian commemorative traditions, such as the Lone Pine, it is also attempt and to rethink the nature and possibilities of the monument itself.


The Book


Nicholson, Tom. 2014. Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah): A Guide Book to a Collection of 69 Eucalyptus Camaldulensis Seeds in the Khalidi Library, Jerusalem. Surpllus. ISBN 978-1-922099-11-2

Tom Nicholson

(1973, Melbourne)


Tom Nicholson often works with archival material and the visual languages of politics, often using public actions and focusing on the relationship between actions and their traces. He has made a number of works engaging aspects of Australia's early colonial history, using combinations of drawings, monumental forms, and posters, often drawing these histories into relation with the histories of other places.


His recent work has been shown in Meeting Points 7, at M HKA, Antwerp, curated by WHW; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Sélestat Biennial, France; Melbourne Now at the NGV; the inaugural Qalandiya International (2012); Parallel Collisions at the 2012 Adelaide Biennale; Marking Time at the MCA, Sydney (2012); the 2012 TarraWarra Biennial; Second World, curated by WHW at Galerija Nova, Zagreb, and as part of the 2011 Steirischer Herbst in Graz, Austria; 2010 Shanghai Biennale; 4th Auckland Triennial, Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon (2010); To the arts, citizens! at the Serralves Museum, Porto (2010); and Animism, at Extra City and M HKA, Antwerp (2010). Other works addressing the possibilities of a new kind of monument or public art-making have been exhibited in the recent exhibition Future Memorials at the TarraWarra Museum of Art with Jonathan Jones and Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin; Since we last spoke about monuments at Stroom Den Haag (2008) and Zones of Contact at the 2006 Sydney Biennale. His ongoing collaboration with the New York-based composer Andrew Byrne was presented in Antwerp (2013), Shanghai (2010), Venice (by the Italian contemporary music ensemble L'Arsenale, 2009), Bath (2008) and in Melbourne (2006). His long-term collaboration with Raafat Ishak was also the subject of a survey at the Shepparton Art Museum. Along with Ishak, he was an active member of the artist collective and gallery, Ocular Lab (2003–2010).


Nicholson is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane, and is a Lecturer in Drawing in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at Monash University.


He lives and works in Melbourne.


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