From Cars to Bags, Artist Brightens Up Gaza Streets with Calligraphy

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Palestinian artist Belal Khalid paints Arabic letters on a bodybuilder in a gym in Gaza City April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, April 25 – With a thick black marker pen in hand, Palestinian graffiti artist Belal Khaled carefully draws an intricate Arabic calligraphic design on a silver Skoda.

The art work decorates the sides of the car, running along the windows and down its doors, the latest in the 24-year-old’s mission to turn everyday objects into things of beauty.

From cars, handbags, street walls as well as human bodies, Khaled is leaving his prints almost everywhere in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement and under blockade by neighbouring Egypt and Israel.

“Some of the works you don’t necessarily need to understand (what they mean), such as a specific sentence,” he told Reuters. “But it carries and adds a certain beauty to the letters.”

In his eclectic choice of objects and backgrounds, his calligraphic graffiti is brightening up the densely populated, impoverished Palestinian enclave of 1.95 million people.

He also takes photos of both daily life and vestiges of the long conflict with Israel, with which Hamas fought a war in 2014 that shattered much of coastal Gaza. But he says his work is not meant to convey any political message, or to make money.

“It is not commercial for me, it is art. I want to spread art everywhere I can get to. Soon I will introduce it to the work of fashion and design of dresses,” Khaled told Reuters.

Khaled, who also works as a photographer and sculptor, began creating his art pieces about a decade ago before turning his drawings to objects as well as human bodies.

“Arabic script is strong and I wanted to connect it to physical strength. I drew on chests and backs of body-builders.

“Some people saw what I drew on body builders’ skin as tattoos and having a tattoo is forbidden in Islam. This is not a tattoo, it is temporary writing and can be washed away.”

Khaled’s work is proving especially popular with retailers, namely those selling women’s accessories such as handbags. He is now looking to branch out by decorating women’s clothes.

“Many of the customers liked the bags and they constantly requested it,” he said. “They liked this work so this opened up other opportunities for me to expand on the products I work on.”

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