2021-22 | Selfish Road | TORCH | Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities

Image depicts a bending road in rural Israel flanked by trees.

Selfish Road


Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund
Dr Oreet Ashery   |   Ruskin School of Art   |   University of Oxford

Partner Organisation:
KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin  |  Mason Leaver-Yap



Through an autoethnographic lens, this new research project is prompted by William Blake’s iconic hymn Jerusalem; as much a city as an emblem of a dystopic paradise.

I plan to investigate how several highways in and around Jerusalem, operate and function in relation to movement, segregation, and accesses. Highway 1, Route 4370, and Tunnels Highway are roads that expose demographic power-structures in relation to religion, ethnicity, nationality and gender.

Growing up in Jerusalem, moving, passing and crossing confined zones that included Orthodox Jewish Ghettos and Palestinian neighborhoods, I was somatically aware of my teenage, gendered body within the privileged wider context of my secular national-ethnic identity. Those early lived experiences have later led to bodies of works, where I portrayed male personas that fictionally and critically explored my heritage.

My father and his siblings were born to a small minority of Jews who lived continuously in the Muslim Quarter in Old Jerusalem, what I consider to be Palestinian Jews. My maternal Orthodox Jewish family lived in the ultrareligious Jewish parts of the city. I aspire to embody a contemporary voice that recalls the nuances of my ancestry and speaks to a Semitic regional identity that partly resides in the imaginary.

Whose Paradise will feed anew - intersectional genderqueer feminist reflections - into Blake’s metaphysical vision of Jerusalem by graphically combining images and text of the Highways with aspects of my (now) ageing non-binary body in a new series of collages and a short new film. The work is commissioned and produced in association with KW, Berlin. 

Past Events

Selfish Road (2022)

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A 30-minute film by artist and filmmaker Oreet Ashery. A KW Production Series. Watch the film here:


(Password: Autonomy)

Journeying through their homeland and recalling autobiographical memories along the way, Ashery observes how both senses of belonging have and continue to fuse with the vertiginous and winding flows of nation-building, infrastructure and land use.

Turning a camera onto the contested land in and around Jerusalem, Selfish Road draws upon the genres of science-fiction, stand-up comedy, the family photo album, and the implicit privilege of the slacker road movie. The film reveals a composite portrait of a rapidly changing landscape: roads collapse into sinkholes, diseased cacti line highways, and location-monitoring apps map circuitous routes to flag “high risk” and “prohibited” areas. This episodic reflection of space and place attempts to work through the paradox: How can you own something that is stolen?

Selfish Road depicts a contradictory environment of industrial extraction obscured by spiritual wellness practices. With anger, grief, hope, and resistance, it dreams of material ecological visions for indigenous life away from settler occupation and seeks out an ethics in and beyond the beauty of the region.

Oreet Ashery is a visual artist who works across established art institutions and grassroots social contexts. Using film, photography, performance, 2D and textiles, they narrate stories of precarious identities and combine autoethnography, collective knowledge and biopolitical fiction. Ashery was awarded the 2017 Jarman Film Award for Revisiting Genesis (2016), a web series that questions how the boundaries between dying, care and self are affected by digital technologies. In 2020 they were a recipient of the Turner Prize Bursary for the exhibition Misbehaving Bodies: Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery (2019), Wellcome Collection, London. Their monograph How We Die Is How We Live Only More So (2019) was published by Mousse. Ashery is Professor of Contemporary Art at Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford.

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