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

The Book To Read: Suad Amiry and the Absurdity of life under Occupation.

I just finished reading Suad Amiry’s Sharon and my Mother-in-Law. The book is a result of her Ramallah diaries (from 1981 to 2004), where she described her everyday life under occupation. Absurdity and agony would be the words to describe this book (the feelings it ewokes), spiced with a lot of humor. For example, there is the situation when Amiry’s husband Salim gets arrested during curfew , but not because he was breaking curfew. The reason for the arrest was  that Amiry was refusing soldier’s orders to stop staring at him. Then there is Amiry’s dog, Nura, toy Manchester terrier who enjoys more political rights than her owner (Nura was granted a coveted Jerusalemite passport by her Israeli veterinarian in a settlement nearby Ramallah). Amiry decides to laugh about it all! To stay sane – you must find a way to laugh at things, otherwise – it’s easy to fall into the circle of depression and anxiety.

suad amirySuad Amiry

Another quality of the book lies in the fact that Amiry is not focused exclusively on criticizing Israel, but opens up about the issues in the Palestinian society.  All in all, Sharon and my Mother-in-Law is not a literary masterpiece, but it’s not aiming to be one either. However, Amiry succeeded in capturing the everyday absurdity of life in the Occupied Territories, and that is a great achievement.

The book has been translated into 19 languages, the last one in Arabic (which was a bestseller in France), and was awarded  the prestigious Viareggio Prize in 2004.  Here are some of the excerpts:

„I’d definitely have to hide Nura’s passport from Samir Hulieleh, who after twenty-four years of marriage to Sawsan, Jerusalemite, had not yet succeeded in getting a Jerusalem ID. I did not want to think about adorable little Yasmin, Sawsan’s and Samir’s only child. The Israelis would not give her a Jerusalem ID because her father had a Palestinian Ramallah ID, and the Palestinian Authority would not give her a Palestinian ID because her mother had an Israeli Jerusalem ID. If Jewish and Arab traditions were respected, Yasmin should have two identity cards, one of her mother and one after her father. But she has none.

Every few days they would lift the curfew for ‘humane reasons’, so that civilians could go out to buy food and medicine. Ramallah would become an absolutely frantic town, with everyone running like crazy to do their shopping before the three hour respite was over. Every now and then, I used to refuse to leave the house in defiance of Israel’s decision: ‘Now you can come out of your houses and run like crazy as we watch you, while pointing our guns at you just in case.‘“

„’What a pity we didn’t carry the begonia pot with us that you gave me on Easter Sunday.’ This was the first thing my mother in-law said to me as I got out of bed at 7.30 to open the door for Nura. ‘It’s OK, Um Salim, our hand were full of more important things’, I answered back with half-open eyes. ‘Khsarah (What a pity), it will die,’ she mumbled. ‘People in Nablus and Jenin are dying under the rubble of their houses,’ I mumbled back quietly, so as not to depress her even more.“

Suad Amiry is an author and an architect living in Ramallah. She is engaged in many peace initiatives of Palestinian and Israeli women. She is director and founder of the Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation (the center was founded in 1991 and is the first of its kind to work on the rehabilitation and protection of architectural heritage in Palestine).

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

Edward Said’s Diary: On encounters with Sartre, de Beauvoir and Foucault.

I recently stumbled upon Edward Said‘s diary from his journey to France in 1979 and his encounters with Sartre, de Beauvoir and Foucault. The full diary can be found on London Review of Books, and here are the excerpts:

For my generation he (Sartre) has always been one of the great intellectual heroes of the 20th century, a man whose insight and intellectual gifts were at the service of nearly every progressive cause of our time. Yet he seemed neither infallible nor prophetic. On the contrary, one admired Sartre for the efforts he made to understand situations and, when necessary, to offer solidarity to political causes. He was never condescending or evasive, even if he was given to error and overstatement. Nearly everything he wrote is interesting for its sheer audacity, its freedom (even its freedom to be verbose) and its generosity of spirit.

edward-said-smile-largeEdward Said

“When I arrived, I found a short, mysterious letter from Sartre and Beauvoir waiting for me at the hotel I had booked in the Latin Quarter. ‘For security reasons,’ the message ran, ‘the meetings will be held at the home of Michel Foucault.’ I was duly provided with an address, and at ten the next morning I arrived at Foucault’s apartment to find a number of people – but not Sartre – already milling around. No one was ever to explain the mysterious ‘security reasons’ that had forced a change in venue, though as a result a conspiratorial air hung over our proceedings. Beauvoir was already there in her famous turban, lecturing anyone who would listen about her forthcoming trip to Teheran with Kate Millett, where they were planning to demonstrate against the chador; the whole idea struck me as patronising and silly, and although I was eager to hear what Beauvoir had to say, I also realised that she was quite vain and quite beyond arguing with at that moment.”

SARTRE BEAUVOIRSartre & Beauvoir

As that day wore on, I slowly discovered that a good deal of negotiating had gone on beforehand to bring the seminar about, and that what participation there was from the Arab world was compromised, and hence abridged, by all the prior wheeling and dealing. I was somewhat chagrined that I hadn’t been included in any of this. Perhaps I had been too naive – too anxious to come to Paris to meet Sartre, I reflected. There was talk of Emmanuel Levinas being involved, but, like the Egyptian intellectuals whom we’d been promised, he never showed up. In the meantime all our discussions were being recorded and were subsequently published in a special issue of Les Temps modernes (September 1979). I thought it was pretty unsatisfactory. We were covering more or less familiar ground, with no real meeting of minds.

Beauvoir had been a serious disappointment, flouncing out of the room in a cloud of opinionated babble about Islam and the veiling of women. At the time I did not regret her absence; later I was convinced she would have livened things up. Sartre’s presence, what there was of it, was strangely passive, unimpressive, affectless. He said absolutely nothing for hours on end. At lunch he sat across from me, looking disconsolate and remaining totally uncommunicative, egg and mayonnaise streaming haplessly down his face. I tried to make conversation with him, but got nowhere. He may have been deaf, but I’m not sure. In any case, he seemed to me like a haunted version of his earlier self, his proverbial ugliness, his pipe and his nondescript clothing hanging about him like so many props on a deserted stage.”

Sure enough Sartre did have something for us: a prepared text of about two typed pages that – I write entirely on the basis of a twenty-year-old memory of the moment – praised the courage of Anwar Sadat in the most banal platitudes imaginable. I cannot recall that many words were said about the Palestinians, or about territory, or about the tragic past. Certainly no reference was made to Israeli settler-colonialism, similar in many ways to French practice in Algeria. It was about as informative as a Reuters dispatch, obviously written by the egregious Victor to get Sartre, whom he seemed completely to command, off the hook. I was quite shattered to discover that this intellectual hero had succumbed in his later years to such a reactionary mentor, and that on the subject of Palestine the former warrior on behalf of the oppressed had nothing to offer beyond the most conventional, journalistic praise for an already well-celebrated Egyptian leader. For the rest of that day Sartre resumed his silence, and the proceedings continued as before. I recalled an apocryphal story in which twenty years earlier Sartre had travelled to Rome to meet Fanon (then dying of leukemia) and harangued him about the dramas of Algeria for (it was claimed) 16 non-stop hours, until Simone made him desist. Gone for ever was that Sartre.

foucaulta29Foucault

Foucault very quickly made it clear to me that he had nothing to contribute to the seminar and would be leaving directly for his daily bout of research at the Bibliothèque Nationale. I was pleased to see my book Beginnings on his bookshelves, which were brimming with a neatly arranged mass of materials, including papers and journals. Although we chatted together amiably it wasn’t until much later (in fact almost a decade after his death in 1984) that I got some idea why he had been so unwilling to say anything to me about Middle Eastern politics. In their biographies, both Didier Eribon and James Miller reveal that in 1967 he had been teaching in Tunisia and had left the country in some haste, shortly after the June War. Foucault had said at the time that the reason he left had been his horror at the ‘anti-semitic’ anti-Israel riots of the time, common in every Arab city after the great Arab defeat. A Tunisian colleague of his in the University of Tunis philosophy department told me a different story in the early 1990s: Foucault, she said, had been deported because of his homosexual activities with young students. I still have no idea which version is correct. At the time of the Paris seminar, he told me he had just returned from a sojourn in Iran as a special envoy ofCorriere della sera. ‘Very exciting, very strange, crazy,’ I recall him saying about those early days of the Islamic Revolution. I think (perhaps mistakenly) I heard him say that in Teheran he had disguised himself in a wig, although a short while after his articles appeared, he rapidly distanced himself from all things Iranian. Finally, in the late 1980s, I was told by Gilles Deleuze that he and Foucault, once the closest of friends, had fallen out over the question of Palestine, Foucault expressing support for Israel, Deleuze for the Palestinians.”

For reasons that we still cannot know for certain, Sartre did indeed remain constant in his fundamental pro-Zionism. Whether that was because he was afraid of seeming anti-semitic, or because he felt guilt about the Holocaust, or because he allowed himself no deep appreciation of the Palestinians as victims of and fighters against Israel’s injustice, or for some other reason, I shall never know. All I do know is that as a very old man he seemed pretty much the same as he had been when somewhat younger: a bitter disappointment to every (non-Algerian) Arab who admired him. Certainly Bertrand Russell was better than Sartre, and in his last years (though led on and, some would say, totally manipulated by my former Princeton classmate and one-time friend, Ralph Schoenman) actually took positions critical of Israel’s policies towards the Arabs. I guess we need to understand why great old men are liable to succumb either to the wiles of younger ones, or to the grip of an unmodifiable political belief. It’s a dispiriting thought, but it’s what happened to Sartre. With the exception of Algeria, the justice of the Arab cause simply could not make an impression on him, and whether it was entirely because of Israel or because of a basic lack of sympathy – cultural or perhaps religious – it’s impossible for me to say. In this he was quite unlike his friend and idol Jean Genet, who celebrated his strange passion for Palestinians in an extended sojourn with them and by writing the extraordinary ‘Quatre Heures à Sabra et Chatila’ and Le Captif amoureux. A year after our brief and disappointing Paris encounter Sartre died. I vividly remember how much I mourned his death.”

For more, go to London Review of Books.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

12-year-old artist from Gaza: Painting is a universal language.

Mohammed Qryqa is a 12-year-old painter from Gaza. Despite his young age, his artworks receive a lot of attention and praise from much older artists and the public. This August, Mohammed was on a tour in Tunisia. He was invited to different cities to present his work. “This doesn’t mean I forget the issues and concerns of my people in Gaza. I’m in Gaza forever,” he said on his Facebook page. Valentina Primo writes how MBC News called him the Arab Picasso, but Mohammed rejected the title. “Picasso is an artist with his own identity and his own style,” he explained, “and I want to be known as Mohamed‏ Qryqa.”

He also said being famous feels like  breaking down walls, stating: “If I get to cross over, it will be a sign that the wall dividing the Palestinian lands could begin to be broken”‏. His biggest wish is to talk about his life, Gaza and Palestine, through his paintings – “I dream of telling the world about Palestine and its people, its prisoners, its children. Foreigners do not understand our language but they can understand us through painting.”

5-copia© Yaser Murtaja & Rushdi Sarraj/Baraka Bits

13-copia© Yaser Murtaja & Rushdi Sarraj/Baraka Bits

15-copia© Yaser Murtaja & Rushdi Sarraj/Baraka Bits

73© Yaser Murtaja & Rushdi Sarraj/Baraka Bits

10360480_322727611229700_8390236767960814365_n© Mohammed’s facebook page

moh© Mohammed’s facebook page

For more, go to Baraka Bits, and visit Mohammed’s facebook page.

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art of resistance, Iran

Tarlan Rafiee: The printess of Iran.

Tarlan Rafiee is an Iranian visual artist/printmaker, photographer and painter. Rafiee has held many painting and printmaking exhibitions in the best known galleries and art museums in Iran.  She now works as a tutor in printmaking in her own studio and other art institutes. Her style could be described as edgy colorful vintage, a blast from the past, but in its essence very relevant today. Rafiee says her  greatest inspiration comes from popular culture, everyday life of ordinary people, their nostalgias and their hopes.

Here are some of Rafiee’s artworks.

taarlan4Once upon a time (collection)

tarlan once upon a timeHappiness package (collection)

tarlan2Once upon a time (collection details)

tarlan3Women gathering (collection)

tarlan6Once upon a time (collection)

Women-Gathering-wall-2-e1405233888307Women gathering (collection)

/all images © Tarlan Rafiee/

For more, visit Rafiee’s facebook page.

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art of resistance, Iraq

Manuscripts don’t burn: Al-Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad.

On March 5th 2007, a car bomb exploded on al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. More than 30 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded. Al-Mutanabbi Street is the historic center of Baghdad bookselling, with bookstores and outdoor bookstalls, cafes, stationery shops, and even tea and tobacco shops. It has been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community.

In 2010, Beau Beausoleil put out a call for book artists to join ‘An Inventory Of Al-Mutanabbi Street’, a project to “re-assemble” some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was lost in the bombing. The inventory of al-Mutanabbi Street was as diverse as the Iraqi population, including literature of both Iraq and the Middle East, history, political theory, popular novels, scholarly works, religious tracts, technical books, poetry, mysteries; even stationery and blank school notebooks could be purchased on this street, as well as children’s books, comics, and magazines. Arabic was  the predominate language but books in Farsi, French, German, and English were also represented. Because books have their own journeys, ones quite unknown to us, there were also a few books in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, or Italian, as well as classic Greek and Latin, Hindi, or Russian.

The coalition asked each book artist who joined the project to complete three books (or other paper material) over the course of a year, books that reflected both the strength and fragility of books, but also showed the endurance of the ideas within them. They were asked to reflect both the targeted attack on this “street of the booksellers” as well as the ultimate futility of those who try to erase thought.

halah1Art, Home, Lands by Oded Halahmy

This project brought me back to my childhood in Baghdad. When Iraqis want to read, the first place they turn to is Al-Mutanabbi Street, a Mecca for all writers, poets, novelists, students and anyone who is thirsty for knowledge. I remember my mother and I would walk from our home to Al-Mutanabbi Street so we could purchase books. From Al Mutanabbi Street we would walk to the Shorjah Market, where we always bought our groceries from the many vendors in the market. I loved to learn, so these trips became food for the mind, for the body and for the soul.”

bolton1What is a book? Poems for al-Mutanabbi street by Ama Bolton

“I wrote the first of these poems after hearing Dr. Saad Iskander on BBC Radio, and later printed it as a broadside for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition. I joined the project because it gave me a chance to do something instead of feeling powerless.”

ruffRabii by Donna Ruff

“My book is both a lament for lives lost and a testament to the enduring nature of books and learning. Formally, the work is like a book- but its pages tell a visual story of grief. The names of those who died in the bombing are written on the ribbon that winds through pages of cut away text blocks. These names represent only a few of the many thousands of Iraqis who have lost their lives in the war.”

szujewska3The Iraqi BookSeller by Laurie Szujewska

The Iraqi Bookseller is inspired by The Bookseller’s Story Ending Much too Soon, an article written by Anthony Shadid for the Washington Post Foreign Service on March 12, 2007 . Shadid’s story is a personal account of the Mutannabi Street bombing told through a reminiscence of his friendship with Mohammed Hayawi, a bookseller on the street. It is intended to be both a remembrance of Hayawi and a tribute to Shadid’s poignant story of his friend.”

martin1Not a straight line by Emily Martin

“My intention with Not a Straight Line was to recreate the movements of someone browsing on Al-Mutanabbi Street. The book is comprised of 10 linked Coptic bound books with one line of the text in each of the books. To read the book the viewer must find their way along the linked books that turn this way and that way much as a meandering street would. The text I wrote is one of defiance, the written word can be damaged but will always prevail.”

woodd1Manuscripts don’t burn by Dan Wood

‘Manuscripts Don’t Burn’ is from the novel ‘The Master and Margarita’, written in the 1930’s by Mikhail Bulgakov, the soviet writer and satirist. The line is spoken by the devil to a writer who had destroyed his own work, which then magically reappears. It has been interpreted through the years as a testament to the writer and artist’s perseverance through oppression, and became somewhat prophetic for Bulgakov’s own life.

These are only couple of book artist featured in Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. To see more, go to Book Arts  and Al-Mutanabbi Street.  For more on impressions of Al-Mutanabbi street, read an essay by Lutfia Alduleimi. Here is an excerpt:

Before I was born in al-Mutanabbi Street, I was no one. I could deny the documents that made reference to my birth on a particular day of the year or a certain province of the country. I was a mere small woman without a place in this world. Then I was born on al-Mutanabbi Street the day my first book was published–A Passage to the Sadness of Men. I had discovered as a girl of nine the richness of the story through 1,001 Nights in a room that girls were forbidden to enter, and I was determined to become the contemporary Shahrezade. This young girl had no future, except perhaps to become a woman set aside to live a pointless life among quiet, forgotten women. But Shahrezade, the first woman to use the magic of imagination to narrate the tales of the East, plucked me out of my time and visited upon me the spell of dreams and tattooed a shining mark on my forehead, setting in place my destiny, as had the gods and goddesses of old:  Go to the place of books. You will be one of those women who narrate stories, one of the daughters of Shahrezade.”

And do read the above mentioned article The Bookseller’s Story, Ending much too soon by Anthony Shadid for Washington Post. Here is an excerpt:

Unlike the U.S. soldiers who die in this conflict, the names of most Iraqi victims will never be published, consigned to the anonymity that death in the Iraqi capital brings these days. Hayawi was neither a politician nor a warlord. Few beyond Mutanabi Street even knew his name. Yet his quiet life deserves more than a footnote, if for no other reason than to remember a man who embraced what Baghdad was and tried to make sense of a country that doesn’t make sense anymore. Gone with him are small moments of life, gentle simply by virtue of being ordinary, now lost in the rubble strewn along a street that will never be the same.

After his death, I thought back to our conversation on that summer day. As he often did, Hayawi paused after an especially vigorous point and dragged on his cigarette. He ran his hand over his sweaty cheeks. ‘Does this look like the face of 39 years?’ he said, grinning. He then knitted his brow, turning grimmer. ‘We don’t want to hear explosions, we don’t want to hear about more attacks, we want to be at peace,’ he told me. He always had dark bags under his limpid eyes, whether or not he had slept. ‘An Iraqi wants to put his head on his pillow and feel relaxed.’

Iraq Body Count for yesterday, 21st of August, is 36 civilians killed, August casualties so far – 1,017 civilians killed. Documented civilian deaths since 2003 vary from 127,685  to 142,924.

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art of resistance, travel, Turkey

Ara Güler’s Anatolia.

It is not a secret that I am a big fan of Ara Güler’s photography. I already wrote about him and his wonderful black & white photos of Istanbul. Here are some of Güler’s photos from  Anatolia, less famous but equally wonderful.

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/all photos © Ara Güler/

For Güler’s photographs of archaeological and historical sites in Anatolia, go to Flickr (Güler often said he feels those photos are his greatest contribution to human history).

For more on the photos featured in this post and more on Ara Güler, go to his official website.

 

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Algeria, art of resistance

The story of Independence: Ali Zamoum’s family (Algeria).

Juliette Guillemot is a French photographer, with many interesting photo series on Picturetank. One of them is Ali Zamoum’s family (Algeria).

Artist statement:

During two visits to Algeria, Guillemot was immersed in the lives of a Kabyle family, the Zamoum family, in the village where the declaration of 1 November 1954 was first printed, marking the start of the War of Independance. Ali Zamoum was the one responsible for printing the declaration, before becoming leader of the resistance in Tizi Ouzou. Ali Zamoum died at the end of summer in 2004. However, the women of the family continue resolutedly to uphold the household and replace the men’s labour in the fields. The men are either deceased, or their professional occupations keep them far from home.

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// all photos © Juliette Guillemot/Picturetank //

For more on this project and other works by Guillemot, go to Picturetank.

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