Passionate Strokes

PALESTINIAN DREAMS: Despite hardships, Palestinian artists continue to reflect their impressions of Gaza on canvas. It is hard to send their paintings abroad due to the Israeli blockade; but to Gaza's artists, hope springs eternal.

Gaza poses for its own artists

BY Sami Abu Salem

Gaza’s art enthusiasts flocked to the “Fans of the Land” Exhibition in Gaza City where various paintings and sculptures were on display earlier this month.

Impressionist, modern, classic and neoclassic artwork depicted vibrant stories of life, nature, people, fear, and hope at the Red Crescent Society’s Hall, where ten Palestinian artists showcased 33 pieces portraying their perception of Palestine.

The exhibition was organized by three non-profit organizations: Haidar Abdelshafi Centre, the Red Crescent Society and Windows for Contemporary Arts.

According to the organizers, such an exhibition helps them discover new talent and encourage others to participate in similar future events.

“We want to relay a message that we love life just like any other people around the globe. Such an activity is a different kind of resistance. We must show the face that the Israeli occupation tries its best to hide from the world,” Tawfiq Abu Shomar, head of the Red Crescent Society’s cultural department, told Newsweek Middle East.

Another message relayed by the exhibition is the ability of Palestinian artists to transcend hardships, especially during such critical times in Gaza, which has been reeling under an Israeli blockade since 2006.

Because of the ongoing siege, Palestinian artists in Gaza find it difficult, if not impossible, to take part in exhibitions abroad, according to artist Diana Al Hosari, 27.

Standing between three of her paintings: Female’s Memories; Beautiful Chaos; and Me and Mum, Hosari, who studied fine arts in Gaza, said the exhibition “is a good opportunity to take part in simply because there is no chance to participate in galleries abroad.”

Hosari was preparing for an exhibition in Lebanon last year, but was unable to travel because of the Israeli siege.

“My colleagues and I weren’t able to travel, nor were we able to ship our paintings. We simply had to send pictures of our paintings via e-mail,” Hosari told Newsweek Middle East.

“We cannot even participate in exhibitions in Ramallah,” she added, referring to the West Bank city.
A painting of a man playing the guitar next to a destroyed house in Gaza hung on one of the walls, alongside other paintings by contemporary artist Basel El Maqosi.

For Maqosi, “This is hope. We should not lose it.” Maqosi explained his technique was to mix paintings of prominent international artists with pictures of the devastation left by the Israeli aggression on Gaza in 2014, known as Operation Protective Edge.

The exhibition not only invoked memories of war for its visitors, but also took them back to a time before the blockade and political divisions in the Gaza Strip.

Imad Al Khawaja, a 40-year-old father of two, moved from one painting to another appreciating them with his children.

The exhibition took him 15 years back when there were “no internal divisions and Gaza knew stability,” he said, adding that he brought his children with him because “they should recognize Palestinian artists. Maybe one of them will become an artist.”

His 10-year-old daughter Suad, who was attending her first ever art-related event, said her favorite piece was a collection of colorful Arabic calligraphy paintings by artist Shareef Sarhan.

“Painting is my hobby, I will set up an exhibition like this when I am older,” she said with a smile.
Sarhan’s paintings titled “Letters and a City” reflect the densely populated city of Gaza with its traffic and noise.

“I try to reduce the material jam and focus on the crowded space in the sky,” Sarhan said.

Another artist, Mohammed Al Shareef, used burnt wood pieces to create artwork that reflected life inside a refugee camp with the hope of returning home one day.

Awad Qandil, an elderly man wearing the traditional white kaffiyeh and black headband, admired a classical painting, by Ibrahim Al Awadi. It depicted an old man wearing the same attire as Qandil.

“This exhibition comes as a comfort. We are in need of such activities… I hope to see more,” said Qandil, a retired English teacher.


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