Arab Today, arab today palestinian art and conflict
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Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Palestinian art and conflict

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today palestinian art and conflict

Mona Al Ghussein

What is art? Art is a language that conveys a huge number of messages and contexts.  It tells us something about history and humanity . Good art through its many mediums,  film, video paintings novels, song , poetry , cooking , embroidery,  glass tells us a story.  Art in  conflict is a  powerful tool either intentionally or otherwise  ‘Every  beautiful poem’ as the late Mahmoud Darwish potently  put it is ‘ an act of resistance’ . A still photograph can create an indelible memory and define a moment in history. The image of  Yasser Arafat on the Whitehouse lawn , his hands stretched out eagerly towards a reluctant Yitzhak Rabin says it all . Then and now.
 
Its been gradual but the plethora of Palestinian art through films novels, sculpture and photography seems to have exploded  into a kaleidoscope of stories of the Palestinian psyche. Exploring identity  and struggle it has been an effective compelling  way of emphasising displacement, the occupation the disenfranchisement of any normality. Taking various mediums these different forms of art tell both our collective narrative and personal experiences .
 
In many ways Palestinian art  be it through  Urban art , graffiti , novels and films have impacted more than a political process. Palestinian graffiti has been a powerful way for those to communicate with the outside world while  under occupation and separation. The  graffiti art movement has its roots in the first intifada and was a method to articulate  and express national resistance. The graffiti on the separation walls tells the world in pictures and messages what its about. It gives a vibrancy and spirit to the Palestinian struggle by screaming eloquently ‘I am here’, ‘ I have an identity’ I am not going away in spite of the wall.’
 
 At the other end of the spectrum,  the excitement and  momentum that Mohammad Assaf, a young man from Gaza,  created in  Arab Idol was not just about winning  but reflects the struggle that all Palestinians have in movement.  His story of how he got to Beirut for the competition was a reminder of what its like to be denied freedom of movement.
 
 The aggressor in any conflict situation needs to erase the identity of those they occupy for legitimacy, slowly chipping away at anything that can remind us about our identity. Israel has understood this and has been effective and active in prompting its narrative its version of the truth denying often the existence of Palestine and its people through films, photographs , novels.  The profound effect the Anne Frank diaries has on the readers emotion and sympathy is huge. Israel has even hijacked our cuisine claiming it be their own gnawing away at our national and  regional cooking heritage . This was sharply rebutted by the wonderful cookery book written by Paula Haddad and Maggie Schmitt  Gaza Kitchen; A Palestinian Culinary Journey that interweaves stories, memories with recipes and confirms the daily embattlement of living under siege.
 
 These  are all  creative methods of re-affirming our culture,  heritage and identity despite Israel’s measures of denying us an existence. It defies the aggressors means of taking everything away and trying to obliterate the Palestinian narrative and truth.
 
 Historically  the victors write history through their perception but through art  Palestinian artists have been able to recount  and display their truths their narrative, their attachment to Palestine. Comedian Mysoon Zaid has shattered countless stereotypes through her comic routine whether its gender inequality or the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Disregarding her disability of cerebral palsy she uses humour as a weapon to broach subjects that are taboo in the USA. Its given the Palestinians a voice, a place and affirms our history and legitimacy to the land.
 
The distinctive blue of Hebron glass was an industry that began  under Roman rule. That glass places us . The exquisite Palestinian embroidery on the traditional thobe identifies the owners village and status. Palestinian  vintage costumes confirm   our lost villages and no amount of rewriting history will change these facts. These artistic expressions are part of our history forever.
 
Palestinian film makers writers artists have changed the landscape on how the Palestinian struggle is viewed globally. Their narratives and truth reflect and demonstrate the pain, daily reality of living under occupation. Renowned Director Michel Khleife whose  Wedding in Galilee , opened the doors internationally for Palestinian film-makers, shows us how even a wedding requires permission from Israel’s authorities due to curfews. Rula Jebreals  book and script for the film Miral potently shows Hind Husseinis efforts to create a children’s  orphanage after 1948 Arab Israeli war and  the Deir Yassin massacre.  We can emphasise  with the  internal conflict young Miral faces between her sweethearts determination to follow the armed struggle an her belief that the way forward is through education.
 
The potency of art and its impact is clearly demonstrated by Israel’s attempts to curtail it. Israel understands the effects it can have and made strong objections on Elia Suelimans film Divine Intervention when it was submitted for an Oscar as Palestinian film under the foreign Category. The controversy went to the heart of the political struggle of a national identity. It wasn’t just a film but a narrative about Palestinians right to their own national identity.  Israel attempts to ban entry of  films under the Palestinian banner has been consistent. Its contention that Paradise Now  was not eligible as a Palestinian film is a case in point.  Israel’s legitimacy  needs to erase any acknowledgment about our existence. The film about suicide bombers  by Hani Assad went to  win the Golden Globes despite Israel’s Israel objection .
 
Likewise Israel’s attempts to ban Jenin Jenin a film by Mohammad Bakri on the grounds that it was libellous, recounts the events of the infamous Operation Defensive Field. Award winning  films  like Ava Maria , directed by Basil Khalil and Omar by Hany Assad are powerful tools in  giving  a voice to the Palestinian truths internationally. It confirms Palestinians talents and creativity thereby raising awareness off  the Palestinian struggle.
 
The films may not overtly be political but they reflect what life under occupation is like. Or as a refugee is. Leila’s Birthday by Rashid Masharawin demonstrates  the frustration of  a father,  a taxi driver in picking up a cake for his young daughter. It shows the reality of  how a simple task becomes a mountain to climb due to obstacles and road blocks.
 
These various artistic  mediums are powerful tools in the 60 year conflict. A well written novel moves us  and draws us perhaps by its personal an intimate picture. Susan Abulhawa’s book Morning in Jenin recounts the  daily reality of growing up in a refugee camp.  It resonates. It portrays the horrors of Israel’s  daily incursions and death but also the spirit of the Palestinian  community in its collective struggle, its humanity.
 
The significance and value of  art  is not so much that it changes the political situation but it promotes and empowers Palestinians, their message, their narrative, their identity and struggle and in turn this impacts on the wider politics through awareness it brings as it reaches out globally .
 
When work by Palestinian artists becomes collectible as in  Photographer Tarek Al Ghoussein’s work on displacement and identity it tells the whole world there is Palestine . His photos have become highly prized and collected by major museums  including the British Albert museum  and the Guggenheim.
 
The vast array of Palestinian  artistic expression be it through  installation art , films , poetry , song,  dress ,  graffiti , books  can be understood as a way of commenting on human experience. These images , texts,  in whatever form will remain long after we are gone keeping our story our struggle our history alive. From  the Grande of Palestinian art Leila Shawa ,  Samia Halaby,  film maker Annemarie Jacir,  Mona Hatoum’s work in sculpture and video on displacement  to Mahmoud Darwish's powerful poetry, these will remain long after we are gone and remind the world of what happened, what our struggle was and is  and become part of our history.
 
What the effect of these works does is it places us . It gives us a name and identity . it shouts ‘we are  ‘we exist’.

 

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