art of resistance, Syria

Art cannot save the Country by Tammam Azzam.

I have already introduced Syrian artist Tammam Azzam and his artwork here, but I’ve stumbled upon his short introduction story on Warscapes, so I decided you need to hear about Azzam one more time.

A-man-walks-past-work-by-digital-artist-Tammam-Azzam-part-of-an-exhibition-titled-The-Syrian-MuseumAzzam’s exhibition The Syrian Museum, ©AFP / Karim Sahib

Here’s the story.

Artist’s Introduction

There is no war in Syria. There is a revolution.

Art cannot save the country. Nothing can save Syria except for the revolution. All art can do is to nourish hope for a different future. After three years in which the world hasn’t done anything for Syria, every Syrian feels abandoned. Ours is a deep, desperate loneliness.

I have been drawing for twenty years but I began working with digital art only two years ago when I was forced to escape with my family and I lost my studio in Damascus. I needed new ways to express my devastation in watching tragic events unfold all over the country. My laptop became my tiny portable studio, my form of protest.

Today the definition of a work of art has become much more flexible, but to me art is only art when it inspires critical thinking and in the process it becomes a testimony of history. In The Syrian Museum series I have created works around iconic subjects by European masters such as da Vinci, Matisse, and Goya. I juxtaposed these great achievements of humanity to the destruction around me; I brought them into the context of war.

In Bon Voyage, I highlighted the fragility of political structures in the wake of revolution: brightly colored balloons carry war-torn buildings lifted straight from the streets of Damascus high above some of the world’s best-known political headquarters and landmarks. Hope beyond horror.

I cannot change history but I can make art. I do not have power, nor do I want it. But I still believe in all those people in the streets claiming their freedom. My work does not want to be a political poster, it is just my way to be out there with them.

For more, go to Warscapes.

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art of resistance

“Our own brand of socialism” by Gabriel Garcia Márquez.

The following interview was published in the March-April 1983 issue of New Left Review and featured again online (this week) on JacobinMag.

Gabriel García Márquez on Fidel Castro, the Soviet Union, and creating “a government which would make the poor happy.”

gabrielGarciaMarquez1981-Eva-Rubinsteinphoto © Eva Rubinstein

Can we look back over the way your political ideas have developed? Your father is a Conservative. Colombia went through a century of intermittent civil war after its independence from Spain in 1819. Two political parties crystallized in the 1840s: the Conservatives whose traditionalist philosophy was based on family, church and state; and the Liberals who were free-thinkers, anti-clerical and economic liberals.

The bloodiest of the wars between these two parties was the ‘War of The Thousand Days’ (1899–1902) which left the country bankrupt and devastated. In Colombia we say being a Conservative or Liberal depends on what your father is, but yours obviously didn’t influence your politics at all because you opted for the left very early on. Was this political stance a reaction against your family?

Not against my family as such, because you must remember that, although my father is a conservative, my grandfather the Colonel was a liberal. My political ideas probably came from him to begin with because, instead of telling me fairy-tales when I was young, he would regale me with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the conservative government. My grandfather also told me about the massacre of the banana workers which took place in Aracataca the year I was born. So you see my family influenced me towards rebellion rather than towards upholding the established order.

Do you remember where and when you read your first political texts?

In my secondary school in Zipaquirá. It was full of teachers who’d been taught by a Marxist in the Teachers Training College under President Alfonso López’s leftist government in the thirties. The algebra teacher would give us classes on historical materialism during break, the chemistry teacher would lend us books by Lenin, and the history teacher would tell us about the class struggle. When I left that icy prison, I had no idea where north and south were, but I did have two very strong convictions. One was that good novels must be a poetic transposition of reality, and the other was that mankind’s immediate future lay in socialism.

Did you ever belong to the Communist Party?

I belonged to a cell for a short time when I was twenty, but I don’t remember doing anything of interest. I was more of a sympathizer than a real militant. Since then, my relationship with the Communists has had many ups and downs. We’ve often been at loggerheads because every time I adopt a stance they don’t like, their newspapers really have a go at me. But I’ve never publicly condemned them, even at the worst moments.

You and I travelled around East Germany together in 1957 and, in spite of the fact we’d pinned out hopes on socialism, we did not like what we saw. Did that trip alter your political conviction?

It did affect my political ideas quite decisively. If you think back, I put my impressions of that trip on record at the time in a series of articles for a Bogotá magazine. The articles were pirated and published some twenty years later — not, I imagine, out of any journalistic or political interest, but to show up the supposed contradictions in my personal political development.

Were there any contradictions?

No, there were not. I made the book legal and included it in the volumes of my complete works which are sold in popular editions on every street corner in Colombia. I haven’t changed a single word. What’s more, I think an explanation of the origins of the current Polish crisis is to be found in those articles which the dogmatists of the time said were paid for by the United States. The amusing thing is that those dogmatists today, twenty-four years later, are ensconced in the comfortable armchairs of the bourgeois political and financial establishment while history is proving me right.

And what did you think of the so-called Peoples’ Democracies?

The central premise of those articles is that the Peoples’ Democracies were not authentically socialist nor would they ever be if they followed the path they were on, because the system did not recognize the specific conditions prevailing in each country. It was a system imposed from the outside by the Soviet Union through dogmatic, unimaginative local Communist Parties whose sole thought was to enforce the Soviet model in a society where it did not fit.

Let’s move on to another of our shared experiences — our days in Prensa Latina, the Cuban news agency. You and I both resigned when the old Cuban Communist Party began taking over many of the institutions of the Revolution. Do you think we made the right decision? Or do you think it was just a hiccup in a long process which we failed to see as such?

I think our decision to leave Prensa Latina was correct. If we’d stayed on, with our views, we’d have ended up being slung out with one of those labels on our forehead — counter-revolutionary, imperialist lackey and so on — that the dogmatists of the day used to stick on you. What I did, if you remember, was to remove myself to the sidelines. I watched the evolution of the Cuban process closely and carefully while I wrote my books and filmstrips in Mexico.

My view is that although the Revolution took a difficult and sometimes contradictory course after the initial stormy upheavals, it still offers the prospect of a social order which is more democratic, more just, and more suited to our needs.

Are you sure? Don’t the same causes produce the same effects? If Cuba adopts the Soviet system as a model (one-party-state, democratic centralism, government-controlled unions, security organizations exercising a tight control over the population), won’t the “just, democratic order” be as difficult to achieve there as it is in the Soviet Union? Aren’t you afraid of this?

The problem with this analysis is its point of departure. You start from the premise that Cuba is a Soviet satellite and I do not believe it is. I think that the Cuban Revolution has been in a state of emergency for twenty years thanks to the hostility and incomprehension of the United States, who will not tolerate an alternative system of government ninety miles off the Florida coast.

This is not the fault of the Soviet Union, without whose assistance (whatever its motives and aims may be) the Cuban Revolution would not exist today. While hostility persists, the situation in Cuba can only be judged in terms of a state of emergency which forces them to act defensively and outside their natural historical, geographical, and cultural sphere of interest. When the situation returns to normal, we can discuss it again.

Fidel Castro supported Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968 (with certain reservations, it is true). What position did you take?

I made a public protest at the time and would do the same again should the same situation arise. The only difference between my position and Fidel Castro’s (we don’t see eye to eye on everything) is that he ended up justifying Soviet intervention and I never would. However, the analysis he made in his speech on the internal situation of the Peoples’ Democracies was much more critical and forceful than the one I made in the articles we were talking about a moment ago. In any case, the future of Latin America is not and never will be played out in Hungary, Poland, or Czechoslovakia, but in Latin America itself. To think anything else is a European obsession, and some of your political questions smack of this obsession, too.

In the seventies after the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla’s famous self-criticism, Padilla was detained by security police to discuss “suspect” political attitudes in his work, and released a month later after publicly confessing counter-revolutionary tendencies. This launched a flood of criticism by European and Latin-American intellectuals. The event was seen as a watershed in the relationship between writers and the Revolution — either as the emergence of latent Stalinism, or as proof of the bourgeois intellectual betraying its duty to stand by a revolution under siege. Some of your friends, myself included, distanced ourselves from the Cuban regime.

You didn’t. You didn’t sign the telegram of protest we sent — you went back to Cuba and became a friend of Fidel. What made you adopt a much more favorable attitude towards the Cuban regime?

Better information about what really happened, and a mature political outlook which made it possible for me to view the situation with more calm, patience, and human understanding.

A great many writers in Latin America besides yourself talk of socialism (Marxist-Leninist) as a desirable alternative. Don’t you think this is rather “old-fashioned” socialism somehow? Socialism is no longer a generous abstraction but a rather unattractive reality. Do you agree that after what has happened in Poland, nobody can believe that the working class is in power in those countries?

Can you see a third option for our continent between decadent capitalism and decadent “socialism?”

I don’t believe in a third option. I believe there are many alternatives — perhaps even as many alternatives as there are countries in our Americas, including the United States. I am convinced that we have to find our own solutions. We can benefit, wherever possible, from what other continents have achieved in their long turbulent histories, but we must not go on copying them mechanically as we have done until now. This is how we can eventually achieve our own brand of socialism.

Talking of other options, what role do you see Mitterrand’s government playing in Latin America?

At a lunch in Mexico recently, President Mitterrand asked a group of writers, “What do you expect from France?” Their reply provoked a discussion which veered towards who was the principal enemy of whom. The Europeans at the table, convinced that they were on the brink of some new Yalta-style carve up of the world, said their principal enemy was the United States. I answered the President’s question (the same one you are asking now) by saying, “Since we each have our own Enemy Number One, what we need in Latin America is a Friend Number One. Socialist France can be that friend.”

Do you believe that democracy as it exists in the developed capitalist countries is possible in the Third World?

Democracy in the developed world is a product of their own development and not the other way around. To try and implant it in its raw state in countries (like those of Latin America) with quite different cultures is as mimetic and unrealistic as trying to implant the Soviet system there.

So you think democracy is a kind of luxury for rich countries? Remember that democracy carries with it the defense of human rights for which you fought so…

I’m not talking about democratic principles but democratic forms.

Incidentally, what is the result of your long battle for human rights in terms of success and failure?

It is very difficult to measure. There are no precise or immediate results with work like mine in the field of human rights. They often come when you’re least expecting them and due to a combination of factors where it is impossible to assess the part played by your own particular action. This work is a lesson in humility for a famous writer like me, who is used to success.

Which of all the actions you’ve undertaken has given you the most satisfaction?

The action which gave me the most immediate personal satisfaction was one I undertook just before the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua. Tomás Borge, who is now the Interior Minister, asked me to think up a good way of putting pressure on Somoza to allow his wife and seven-year-old daughter to leave the Colombian Embassy in Managua where they had asked for asylum. The dictator was refusing them a safe conduct, because they were the family of no less a person than the last surviving founder-member of the Sandinista Front.

Tomás Borge and I turned the problem over for several hours until we came up with a useful point: the little girl had once had a kidney infection. We asked a doctor how her present conditions would affect this, and his answer gave us the argument we were looking for. Less than forty-eight hours later, mother and daughter were in Mexico, thanks to a safe conduct granted on humanitarian, not political, grounds.

My most discouraging case, on the other hand, was when I helped free two English bankers who’d been kidnapped by guerrillas in El Salvador in 1979. Their names were Ian Massie and Michael Chaterton, and they were going to be executed within forty-eight hours because no agreement had been reached between the two parties.

General Omar Torrijos telephoned me on behalf of the kidnapped men’s families and asked me to help save them. I relayed the message to the guerrillas through numerous intermediaries and it arrived in time. I promised to arrange for the ransom negotiations to resume immediately, and they agreed. Then I asked Graham Greene, who lives in Antibes, to make the contacts on the English side.

The negotiations between the guerrillas and the bank lasted for four months. It had been agreed that neither Graham Greene nor I would take any part in the actual negotiations but, whenever there was a hitch, one side or the other would get in contact with me to try and get the talks going again.

The bankers were freed but neither Graham Greene nor myself received a single word of thanks. It wasn’t very important, of course, but I was rather surprised. After a lot of thought, I came up with an explanation—Green and I had arranged things so well that the English must have thought we were in cahoots with the guerrillas.

Many people look on you as a sort of roving ambassador in the Caribbean — a goodwill ambassador of course. You’re a personal friend of Castro, but also of Torrijos in Panamá, of Carlos Andrés Pérez in Venezuela, of Alfonso López Michelson in Colombia, of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua … You are a privileged interlocutor to all of them.

What motivates you to adopt this role?

The three figures you mention were in power at the same time — a very crucial time for the Caribbean. It was a very fortunate coincidence, and a great pity that they could not have cooperated as they did for longer. There was a moment when the three of them, working with Castro and a president like Jimmy Carter in the United States could, without a doubt, have put this area of conflict on the right track. There was a continuous, very positive dialogue taking place among them. I not only witnessed it but helped in it whenever I could.

I think that Central America and the Caribbean (for me they are one and the same thing and I don’t understand why they are called two different things) have reached a stage of development and a point in their history when they are ready to break out of their traditional stagnation. But I also believe that the United States will frustrate any such attempt because it means giving up very old and important privileges.

For all his limitations, Carter was the best party to this dialogue the Caribbean has had in the last few years, and the fact that his presidency coincided with that of Torrijos, Carlos Andrés Pérez, and López Michelsen was very important indeed. It was this particular situation and conviction which encouraged me to get involved, however modestly. My role was simply that of an unofficial intermediary in a process which would have gone a lot further had it not been for the catastrophic election of an American president who represents diametrically opposite interests.

Torrijos used to say that my work was “secret diplomacy,” and he often said in public that I had a way of making bad news seem like good. I never knew if this was a reproach or a compliment.

What type of government would you like to see in your own country?

Any government which would make the poor happy. Just think of it!

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art of resistance, Azerbaijan

Faig Ahmed: Reorienting the Carpet Icons.

Faig Ahmed is an artist you want to hear about.

Azerbaijan-carpet-thread-installation5Faig Ahmed

He graduated from the Sculpture faculty at the Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art in Baku. Last ten years he has been working with various media, including painting, video and installation. Currently, he is studying the artistic qualities of Azerbaijani traditional rugs – he disassembles their conventional structure and randomly rearranges the resulting components of the traditional composition then combines these fragments with contemporary sculptural forms. 

Faig-Ahmed-9-650x322

On his work, he writes:

“Our opinions and decisions are resulting from the influences of our childhood. If we could know all the details of someone’s life we could easily predicted his reactions and choices. 
Tradition is the main factor creating the society as a self regulated system. Changes in the non-written rule happen under influence of global modern culture.

Faig-Ahmed-3-650x975
The carpet is a symbol of invincible tradition of the East, it’s a visualization of an undestroyable icon.
In my art I see the culture differently. This is more of expectation of a reaction because it’s exactly the change of the points of view that changes the world.

02-Faig-Ahmed-700x364
Slight changes in the form of a carpet dramatically change it’s structure and maybe make it more suitable for the modern life.
The Eastern culture is very reach visually. I cover it all in minimalistic forms, destroying the stereotypes of the tradition and creating new modern boundaries. A man can widen the borders and change them but no one has ever dare to break our spirit. “

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All of these carpets are woolen and handmade. For more of Faig’s work, go to his official website. Enjoy.

Faig-Ahmed-6-650x962all images © Faig Ahmed

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art of resistance, Iraq, Syria

Syrian refugees exhibit their art and aim for microloans.

Author: Sazan M. Mandalawi / Niqash

“Today is the first exhibition in my life,” Fayza Hussein says. “I am so happy. This was always my dream.”

Hussein, 37, is a single woman living with her brother-in-law and sister in the Domiz refugee camp, in Iraq’s Dohuk province. Hussein came from the north-eastern Syrian town of Qamishli around ten months ago and is one of an estimated 60,000 Syrian refugees here – most of them are Syrian Kurds. She has yet to get her own tent.

image1398201409-23061-PlaceID-0_s660x390©Aral Kakl

The exhibition Hussein is taking part in, is being held among tents at the camp’s Serdam Youth Centre. It includes paintings and calligraphy made there during courses for camp youth, as well as entertainment with singing and a theatre performance.  Hussein is exhibiting examples from the knitting courses she has been teaching – some is her own work, some is the work of her students.

The centre was established by the United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA, which, besides promoting reproductive and sexual health, also works to support young people in difficult environments like the Domiz camp.

The UNFPA has established similar spaces inside other refugee camps in the semi-autonomous, northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan, says Hussein Hanary, a program analyst with the UNFPA. Besides promoting awareness about reproduction, the youth centres provide a friendly atmosphere and a variety of activities, everything from courses in music, arts and literature to sports training.

Wearing her best traditional Kurdish dress, Hussein places hand-knitted pieces of clothing and accessories on the wire fence at the centre, against a white piece of cloth. There is a gentle wind and clouds in the sky – Hussein looks up, and wishes that it won’t rain today, on her big day.

“I trained all the girls to do these things,” Hussein explains, while moving a few pieces of clothing around, pinning them firmly to make sure the smaller items are in place, wind proof. “Today we are showing everything we did.”

“I learned knitting from my mother when I was very young. I enjoyed it a lot. My mum is no longer alive, God bless her soul. When I came here, I was told there is a Youth Centre here in the camp. They accepted my project to train some girls in knitting,” Hussein recounts.

Hussein has always had artistic inclinations. “In Syria I went to an arts institute for two years,” she notes. “But because I was a Kurd, they did not recognize my certificate. So I worked as a nurse instead.”

Up until recently Syria’s Kurds were treated as second class citizens in Syria, in attempts to “Arabize” parts of the country where the Kurdish dominated demographically. Although they make up as much at 15 percent of Syria’s population, many were stripped of Syrian citizenship while others were marginalised economically, politically and through legislation. This is why Hussein’s arts institute training was never officially recognised.

Additionally, as she says, “my father was alone and I was the eldest of the 13 children, so I had to work and contribute to the household expenses.”

Here in the camp though, Hussein has trained a number of other young women how to knit professionally. The training she conducts lasts one month and she’s now eager to start with another group of young girls. Today’s exhibition will eventually attract 250 people, some of whom buy pieces of the women’s handiwork.

Sawsan Abdulbaqi, 25, arrives and rushes towards Hussein, a black plastic bag under her arms. Their greeting is warm. “She was my student,” Hussein introduces Abdulbaqi proudly.

“My students all call me teacher when I walk around in the camp. They all know me,” Hussein says. “It’s a nice feeling when people know you for something good.”

Abdulbaqi says she started off with very basic knitting skills. But now after the training, she can knit with five knitting needles at once. “I have three young kids,” Abdulbaqi says. “I can’t work, there are no jobs for me. But I can knit while looking after them in the tent.”

After the workshops many of the young girls continue to knit, working on orders as they are requested, then selling the pieces. Most of the work they do goes to others living in the camp – but eventually they’re hoping they may be able to get a microfinance loan and start up their own business, knitting goods for Iraqi Kurdish people around the region.

“Wool is expensive so I can’t just make pieces and hope they sell,” Abdulbaqi explains. “Once someone asks me to, then I make it.” Then she takes a few pieces out of the black plastic bag.

“It’s my first exhibition too,” she says proudly, as she helps Hussein to pin her green and white knitted slippers onto the fence too.

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art of resistance, Jordan, travel

Women take to the pitch as female footballers wow Jordan.

Author: Raed Omari/ Al Arabiya

It is a conservative Arab state, yet football is increasingly popular among women, who do not see a contradiction between the world’s most popular sport and Islamic values. In Jordan, female footballers love to be referred to as “Nashmiyyat,” or the “brave ones.” That is the official name of the national women’s team.

“If there has ever been an Islamic reason restricting women’s involvement in football, it’s no longer in place, with the international rule-making body FIFA lifting the ban on the use of hijab during football matches,” said Sama Zghayer, a professional footballer and former member of the national women’s team.

fe68c2a8-73df-4ce2-aebe-5137075dbcab_16x9_788x442© Al Arabiya/ Muath Freij

The level of women’s involvement in football has increased “immeasurably,” she told Al Arabiya News. “Here in Jordan, we have the under-15 and under-17 football teams, in addition to the first women’s team.”

Danielle Salton and Mary Harvey, former members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, visited the Jordanian capital last week. The U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Stuart E. Jones, told Al Arabiya News that the visit aimed to enhance women’s empowerment and involvement in sports.

Jones, who joined a workshop held by Salton and Harvey at Al-Hussein Youth City’s Polo Stadium, commended FIFA for lifting the ban on hijab: “Cultural differences have to always be respected and taken into consideration by all international governing bodies.”

The fact that Jordan is hosting the 2016 FIFA under-17 Women’s World Cup is evidence of the sport’s growing popularity among females, the American footballers told Al Arabiya News. “In schools, they have passion for the game,” Harvey said. “In Jordan, the game is massively popular, with female footballers becoming national icons.”

The former international players also visited the kingdom to increase participation in the Jordan Football Association’s Prince Ali Centers, which comprise a new nationwide network of football clubs for adolescent girls, according to a U.S. embassy statement.

In cooperation with the Prince Ali Centers, Salton and Harvey led one workshop with coaches, and three workshops with several of the 15 Prince Ali Centers. The program culminated in a mini-tournament for all the Prince Ali Centers on Friday at the Polo Fields in Amman, with 375 Jordanian girls taking part, according to the U.S. embassy.

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art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

The Palestine of Nabil Anani: Colorful, but not Happy.

Nabil Anani is one of the most prominent Palestinian artists working today. He is considered by many as a key founder of the contemporary Palestinian art movement.

He held his first exhibition in Jerusalem in 1972 and has since exhibited widely in Europe, North America, the Middle East, North Africa and Japan – both as an individual artist and with groups of his Palestinian contemporaries.

seige nabil ananiSeige, Nabil Anani

Anani was awarded (by Yasser Arafat) the first Palestinian National Prize for Visual Art in 1997 and became the head of the League of Palestinian Artists in 1998. On retiring from his teaching post in 2003, Anani has dedicated much of his time to voluntary pastimes, leading on the League’s activities and playing a key role in the establishment of the first International Academy of Fine Art in Palestine.

nabil anani you who knows my conditionYou who knows my condition, Nabil Anani

His work doesn’t lack colors, and yet – it isn’t (very often) colorful as in happy. He tells a story of Palestine, Palestine vibrant and diverse, Palestine struggling, mourning, waiting and – surviving. He shows us how identity, culture, and history melt together and they can’t be easily separated and put apart in Palestine. It’s essential to know them, to paint them, to write them – to understand, to remember.

Children-of-GazaChildren of Gaza, Nabil Anani

For more of Anani’s work, go to his official site.

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Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Gazans under blockade suffering from abject poverty.

Author: Reuters

Life has never seemed so grim for the Mustafas, a family of seven cramped into a shabby two-room hovel in Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp.

Seven years into an Israeli blockade and ten months into a crippling Egyptian one, Gaza’s economic growth has evaporated and unemployment soared to almost 40 percent by the end of 2013.

Opposition to the Hamas militant group which runs the Gaza Strip has led its neighbors to quarantine the enclave, shutting residents out of the struggling Mideast peace process and leaving them with plenty of parties to blame.

Living on U.N. handouts of rice, flour, canned meat and sunflower oil, with limited access to proper health care or clean water, families like the Mustafas – seemingly permanent refugees from ancestral lands now part of Israel – have no money, no jobs and no hope.

“We’re drowning… We feel like the whole world is on top of us. I turn on the television and I see the lifestyles on there, and I think, God help me leave this place,” said Tareq, 22.

The Mustafas often must pick up and move when rain floods their low-lying home – even on a sunny day, it’s lined with slick, smelly mildew. They stand in the dark, as 12-hour power cuts are now the norm throughout Gaza due to scant fuel.

“There’s no money for university or to get married. There’s not even enough to spend outside the house so we can escape a little. What kind of life is this?” Tareq asks.

Well over half of Gaza residents receive food from the United Nations, and the number is on the rise.

UNRWA, the U.N. Refugee Works Agency devoted to feeding and housing the refugees, told Reuters it was now feeding some 820,000, up by 40,000 in the last year. The U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) gives food aid to some 180,000 other residents.

Shock to the population

More than 1.2 million of 1.8 million Gazans are refugees or their descendants who fled or were driven from land that became part of Israel in the war of its foundation in 1948.

As decades passed, the hand of occupation variously clenched or relaxed through wars and uprisings. Groups of tents slowly morphed into concrete ghettos – eight camps in total – where chances for change feel as narrow as the claustrophobic alleys.

“Gaza just seems to keep descending further into poverty and de-development of the economy,” said Scott Anderson, deputy director of operations at UNRWA, noting that the level of aid dependency faced by Gaza has few parallels in the world.

“In terms of economic shock to a population, probably somewhere like Sierra Leone might be the only place where people experience what the people of Gaza experience on a daily basis,” he told Reuters.

The crisis is pulling down the Strip’s most vulnerable, not just among its poor but also its sick. While basic health and economic indicators outstrip much of Africa, the rising level of aid dependency and sense of confinement takes a constant toll.

Cancer struggles

Eman Shannan, who runs a support group for cancer patients and writes about Gaza life, told Reuters that treatment for the disease has been rendered agonizing by travel curbs at the Egyptian border, a lack of medicine and careless officialdom.

“We are headed for disaster. Five new cases come into the office every day… Cancer doesn’t kill as much as the circumstances around us do. People can survive cancer, but not this,” said Shannan, herself a survivor.

There are 13,000 sufferers in the Strip and it is the second highest cause of death among Palestinians after heart disease.

Farha al-Fayyumi, a breast cancer patient from the Shuja’iya refugee camp in central Gaza complains that her teeth are throbbing – medicines used to offset the effects of her years of chemotherapy treatments are not available in Gaza.

Once the a main conduit for Gazans seeking treatment abroad, the crossing with neighboring Egypt is now only open to people, including the sick, around two days each month. More and more, poverty is also staunching the flow.

“I haven’t been to Egypt for treatment for a year and a half. I can’t afford the travel expenses,” said al-Fayyoumi, a widow with eight children clad in a head-to-toe black niqab body cloak.

Treatment in Gaza was rendered harder by the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords because radiation chemotherapy, the two sides agreed, could have military applications. Only five practicing oncologists remain in Gaza, Shannan notes with gloom.

Blame

In northern Gaza’s green farmland, Mahmoud blames Hamas for much of the suffering.

“Do things ever change for their gang? If jobs open up, their people get them. They never suffer,” said the 23-year-old, who studied to be an electrician, then a truck driver, but found work as neither.

Hamas denies corruption and says it governs transparently, mostly blaming Israel for the Strip’s economic woes.

Mahmoud’s father, a farmer, sits in a flowing brown robe and rests his cane over his knees in a sunny enclosure next to his family house.

The 67-year-old remembers the orchards in his 180,000 square meters of land astride Israel’s border where olives, lemons and oranges once thrived in the area’s sweet well water.

Long since demolished by Israeli bulldozers amid cross-border violence in 2008, the orchard lives on only in his small garden. In it stands one of every type of tree he used to tend – a reminder of what he’s lost and of the steady erosion of land and livelihoods that Palestinians have endured over the decades.

Contamination of the aquifer means the family’s water is now brackish and undrinkable. Like many Gazans, they pay to have it filtered.

“When they closed the land, life ended.” he sighed. “We used to sell the fruit of our trees, now we buy from Egypt and Israel, but only when we can afford it.”

Grumbling at their leaders’ perceived incompetence is common among residents, but many said Gazans would remain behind Hamas because of its militancy.

“The whole world is against them. They’re not angels of course. They’ve made a lot of mistakes. But if they went ahead and recognized Israel, the people here would spit on them — their popularity would evaporate overnight,” said Zakaria Shurafa, a driver picking up his family’s ration of U.N. food aid at a busy distribution centre by the Beach Refugee camp.

“I don’t see any possibility of a revolt, though I’m sure Israel’s blockade is trying at that … it’s no use, we’re used to this kind of life.”

Mahmoud, the jobless youth, lamented how the economic deadlock was dragging down society, and his dreams of what he could accomplish.

“In conditions like this, you feel people’s hatred grow, their jealousy of each other grow. Young people take tramadol (drugs), there’s robbery. These things didn’t use to happen,” he said.

“When you’re young you think that, as an adult, you will be able to do more, that the world will become more open to you. But here, we found that as we grew older, our problems only grew.”

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art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Hani Zurob: Learning how to wait and fly.

Hani Zurob is a Palestinian artist, living in exile. He’s unable to return to his home in Gaza since a trip he made to Paris in 2006. He remains in Paris today, creating works that explore the tissues of exile – movement and displacement – concepts that remain close to the painter’s heart.

I really enjoyed his Flying lesson & Waiting series. About that artwork, he wrote:

The idea of this project occurred when my son‪ Qoudsi started to learn to speak. When I used to accompany him and his mother to Charles De Gaulle airport in 2009, he surprised me with the question, “Daddy why don’t you come with us to Jerusalem?” Holding an identity card from Gaza, it would be hard for him to grasp my incapability of never being able to travel with them.

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Qoudsi, like all other children in his age, is selective when it comes to which toys he wants to play with. He subconsciously uses them to express his thoughts and concerns. I notice that he increasingly chooses to play with transportation toys, in his belief that there has to be a kind of transportation that can get us together to his grandfather’s house in Jerusalem. Once, he suggested that we should take his small car, and in another time, he wanted to put me in his travelling suitcase, and once he wanted me to ride with him his bicycle after he learned how to ride it.

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Yet, he always chooses the plane, which is also his preferred seat on carousels when he sees one. His search is restless, and every time he travels to Jerusalem, I feel he matures and his thoughts become more developed. He still comes to me with new toys and solutions, and his selection changes with his growing thoughts and with his increasing physical abilities to use his toys.

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Through the use of oil and acrylic paint and other mediums, I try to create a world which is composed of three worlds: exile where the artist lives (the father), and who appears in the paintings as the sole living human being by the depiction of the son who is portrayed in a relatively small scale in contrast to his surroundings. The second world concerns Qoudsi himself, as he visually appears and in his manner of showing his feelings through the use of his toys and his interactions with them. The third world is one of space, where we come from, which is depicted through walls, and multilayered backgrounds, as symbolic traces of the complex life that does not enable Qoudsi and me to meet. Yet, it is in my construction of a virtual world where a space for such a meeting occurs.

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After each trip to Jerusalem and the collection of a new toy to his already filled cupboard, and with each painting where we try to find our ground, Qoudsi still anticipates our trip together, and so do I. Until he realizes the reality that was forced upon us, we will keep playing the waiting game and learning flying lessons.

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all images © Hani Zurob Flying Lesson & Waiting series

For more of  Zurob’s work, go to his official website.

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art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

First Intifada and the verses of Suheir Hammad.

This post is a fusion of the First Intifada scanned photos (collected by Palestinian Photo Club) and the poetry of Suheir Hammad, an American poet, author and political activist. Hammad was born in AmmanJordan. Her parents were Palestinian refugees who immigrated along with their daughter to New York when she was five years old. Her heritage is an important part of her work and her poetry particularly.

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Land

his approach 
to love he said
was that of a farmer
most love like
hunters and like
hunters most kill
what they desire
he tills
soil through toes
nose in the wet
earth he waits
prays to the gods
and slowly harvests
ever thankful

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What I will

I will not
dance to your war
drum. I will
not lend my soul nor
my bones to your war
drum. I will
not dance to your
beating. I know that beat.
It is lifeless. I know
intimately that skin
you are hitting. It
was alive once
hunted stolen
stretched.

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I will
not dance to your drummed
up war. I will not pop
spin beak for you. I
will not hate for you or
even hate you. I will
not kill for you. Especially
I will not die
for you. I will not mourn
the dead with murder nor
suicide. I will not side
with you nor dance to bombs
because everyone else is
dancing. Everyone can be
wrong. Life is a right not
collateral or casual. I
will not forget where
I come from. I
will craft my own drum. Gather my beloved
near and our chanting
will be dancing. Our
humming will be drumming. I
will not be played. I
will not lend my name
nor my rhythm to your
beat.

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 I will dance
and resist and dance and
persist and dance. This heartbeat is louder than
death. Your war drum ain’t
louder than this breath.

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Daughter (excerpt)

tonight it is raining in
the tradition of my parents
wanted a daughter not a writer
happy birthday poet
who loves you baby
the way your mama did
under her breast the way your
father did under his breath
leaves and leaving have known
my name intimately
i harvest pumpkins
to offer the river eat
buttered phoenix meat
to celebrate a new year
new cipher for my belly

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i got a new name
secret nobody knows
the cold can’t call me
leaving won’t know 
where to find me 
october gonna hide me
in her harvest in
her seasons
happy birthday daughter
of the falling

All Suheir Hammad’s works (read and read!):

  • Born Palestinian, Born Black. Harlem River Press, 1996
  • Drops of This Story Harlem River Press, 1996.
  • Zaatar Diva Cypher Books, 2006
  • Breaking Poems Cypher Books, 2008
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art of resistance, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, travel

A pinch of (old) Middle East Ceramic.

39bed45cf86057279c276aea832c502fBowl Iran, Nishapur Bowl, 10th century Ceramic

38e4f644d0d72426c7032f70e3c77d5fLustre-ware bowl, Basra, Iraq, late 9th century

45e4d663cdf337cccd078e2a57479957Bowl Iran, Nishapur Bowl, 10th century Ceramic

a4d8063ee2327964daa61a096c5843ffRare Vintage Palestinian Ceramic plate

a050d15b5b4cf0d6f12454694c36f97fBowl Iran, Kashan Bowl, 1187/Muharram, 538A.H. Ceramic

c76b3f15721d019d143343bf95352c02Bowl Iran, Kashan Bowl, early 13th century Ceramic

a76e8c826df3d336c560127d55cded68Kashan Mina’i ware bowl, Iran, 12-13th century

995d408f6448500766d965c1ab5c8eadbowl Syria, 13th century

dd771203cca8ac735217502540ffbcf8Bowl Iran, Nishapur Bowl, 10th century Ceramic

1d715b20c7d371d3342e8262af44f6d0Bowl Iran, 11th century Ceramic

c42ff1b9b1cd4e675cb2458060c141a7Ewer Greater Iran, Nishapur or Samarqand Ewer, 10th century Ceramic

fbd0fef5821837b2326bb043fdab8a91

Bowl Iran, Nishapur Bowl, 10th century Ceramic

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