Palestinian Art: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

By Christopher Kuhl
  
Cultural Shock and Awe: The first art exhibition by visual artists from Palestine, in the USA.  Previously,  one never read of Palestinian cultural figures—writers, poets, visual artists or their productions in the Unites State’s media—there has been a solid media blackout—because this would humanize their loss and struggle.

The time for a historically detailed exhibition of artworks from the Palestinian Territories was long overdue—the cultural blackout or blacklisting fraying a bit, to allow this to happen, as the time to address their collective cry for independence and full political sovereignty is redolent in current events brimming with apocalyptical warnings of a world descending into barbarity and nihilistic chaos—forcing people into warring camps—a triangulation of hate and escalating violence between Zionists, Christians and Moslems—whipped up by American corporations, media, government (Pentagon)— with the goal of privatizing endless war against the Muslim World to secure vast energy resources for the next 50 years for American Corporations. 

The case of the Palestinians parallels the cultural and military campaigns waged against the Native American tribes by America settlers in order to steamroll them into udder abject poverty, economic subservience, and cultural extinction.

First natural resources are stripped away and cultural identity is attacked–but land rights and cultural history cannot be erased. Each successive generation cries out for economic, social and political sovereignty. The chimes of freedom rings eternal in the soul of the oppressed.

Modern art and philosophy offers numerous tools to disentangle the Neo-Colonial myth of the Israeli 60 year military occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

So let the Palestinians artists tell their existential political story from their viewpoint. Into this vacuum, a recent art exhibition entitled Made in Palestine has been touring the United States most recently at The Bridge Gallery in New York City in 2006. The variety of artists and formal works was stunning in technical and emotional terms.

A haunting sense of loss and dread permeate many pieces including Homes of the Disembodied by Mary Tuma 2000, 50 continuous yards of silk –dark black draped  from metallic hangars from the ceiling in a gauzy trail of sheer five 30 foot tall  effigies silent expressive of endless mourning that seems communal and church-like. Suleiman Mansour’s I, Ismael 1997 clay on six wood panels shows a ghostly alien figure of a man disintegrating into tiny fissures of dried clay before one’s eyes. Ashraf Fawakhry’s I Am Donkey/ Made In Palestine 1998-ongoing ink and mixed media on a series of 47 wood blocks miniscule in size nearly 2.5/2.5/I in inches illustrate his playful subversive use of the donkey as symbol of intractable stupidity in many strange circumstances—one senses isolation and vulnerability here; and endless assault.

On the positive ledger Samia Halaby’s brilliant abstract painting sing out with gorgeous chromatic riffs and topologies, color dollops, drips and fissures into an expanding esthetic bravado—a universal joyspring. Rana Bishara’s exquisite silk screened images of 50 years of Israeli military occupation—enclyclopedic recall of dense collective history adumbrated into sublime orange tinted images of chocolate substrate as color fixative, that is fluid and clotted at times like blood but these glass panes hung by delicate monofilaments create an atmospheric sense of distant memories resurfacing in endless cycles and loops. Each pane represents one year under foreign occupation her art earns the title of true palimpsest.

Mervat Essa’s ceramic sacks collapse like the stony ruins of hundreds of Palestinian villages abandoned during the 1948 war adding to this symphony of desolation are the exacting drawings by John Halaka of whirlwind energies and a march of faceless refugees entitled Forgotten Survivors. Mustafa Al Hallaj born in Salame near Jaffa, created epic masonite prints using a serial approach to create Egyptian-like sequential narrative spanning centuries for the Palestinian people. He died in a fire in 2002 and the show was dedicated by the curators in his honor.

Rula Halawani’s Negative Incursion series documents the Isreali intensified war on the Palestinians in 2003-continuing under the aegis of Bush Jr. her large negative prints show a civilian landscape littered with menacing Merkava tanks, Cobra helicopters bodies splayed about the roads and massive urban destruction indicating fresh war crimes. Raijie Cook or Roger Cook is an internationally famous graphic designer whose extremely clever yet simple poster series hit the issues spot-on with their subversive logic and common-sense approach.

Jawad Ibrahimi series Between Bullet and Stone square ink/graphite images of dead children laid out for burial, distorted traumatized faces showing the signs of unrelenting Isreali torture and military violence. His series records the passing lives of shaheed or youthful martyrs in a sensation arising from Goya’s Horror of War works.

Zudhi Al Adawi also self-taught artist was a torture victim and his works are a resolute response with crayons on pillow linens from the prison. Noel Jabbour’s Vacant Seat Series are formal family portraits minus a missing member who was murdered and these pictures resolve into borders of diffuse, milky almost heavenly light. Emily Jacir, a well-known artist in the West, produced a tent memorial to the 418 Palestinian villages that were destroyed .depopulated and occupied by Israel since 1948. All the village names were embroidered by volunteers and artists who happened by her studio—she also showed her videos on the Surda border crossing.

Of the 23 artists shown and 3 poets (Nathalie Handal, Mahmoud Darwish and Fadwa Tuqwan) included in Made in Palestine the overall affect is one of stunning sadness and pain at the continuous military and economic onslaught by the American financed Israel Defense Forces. These emotional fault lines are still open and anguish seems a permanent state of being a stateless Palestinian.

Made in Palestine opened at the Station Museum in Houston, Texas in 2003, an has since traveled to San Francisco, and Montpelier Vermont in 2004, and the Bridge Gallery in New York City in 2006, and will travel in the future. Catalogues are available from the Station Museum in Houston.

(Image caption: Village Celebration, by Abdul Hay Mussalam, acrylic on wood composite, 27 1/2" x 48 1/2", 1985)

-Christopher Kuhl is an artist and a writer; he is a contributor to European Photography, Art in America and Stretcher.org. A painter and photographer, Kuhl has exhibited in numerous group exhibitions in the US and overseas. Look for his work at: www.ArtistsSpace.org. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com

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