Qalandiya International 2016
This Sea is Mine: Gaza
This Sea is Mine
Location: Gaza, Palestine
Venues: Eltiqa Group, Omar Al-Mokhtar St., near Al-Abbas Square // Al-Harazein Building & Shababek For Contemporary Art, Abu Hsirah St., behind Al-Shifa Hospital.
Dates/Times: Exhibition open daily 11:00–19:00 except Fridays. 5–31 October, 2016
Organizers: Eltiqa Group for Contemporary Art / Shababek for Contemporary Art
Curators: Raed Issa and Shareef Sarhan
Artists: Click on the names below to visit each artist's section
Mohamed Abusal, Abed Al-Raouf Al-Ajuri, Basel El Maqousi, Dina Mattar, Diana Alhosary, Majed Shala, May Murad, Mohammed Al-Hawajri, Rufaida Sehwail, Ruqaia Al-Lulu, Sohail Salem, Raed Issa and Shareef Sarhan
Click on the links below to visit each section
In Gaza City it is estimated that 1.24 million people, three quarters of the population, are refugees registered with UNRWA, half of whom live in the eight recognized refugee camps. This means three quarters of the people either lived through, or have grown up hearing about, the 1948 Catastrophe, or 'Nakba', and dream about returning to their lands and homes. The concept of 'return' has been talked about, considered and discussed in every household in Gaza.
Despite the multiple wars and the siege Gaza has experienced over the course of 68 years, the city has never stopped dreaming of 'return'. Ask that 80-year-old man sitting in front of his house in the Al-Shati refugee camp, which was built on the shore of the Mediterranean sea, as he tells his grandchildren stories about the city of Yaffa and the sea there, about how his life was and how he dreams of returning to it one day. If he can't return himself, his grandchildren will carry on with the dream.
In this exhibition of contemporary art, the artists will present works that are based on the dream of returning and the notion that this sea belongs to them. Through paintings, installations, photography and performances, the artworks will be a witness to the dream of return, and will communicate this dream to both the local and an international audience.
The exhibition is a major challenge, particularly with its theme of 'this sea is mine', as Gaza is a coastal city and the sea is part of its everyday life. The same sea carries many meanings. The sea is where the people of Gaza go to find some calm and peace of mind. But it is also a reminder of the limits on freedom as no-one can go more than six nautical miles out to sea; it is as if the horizon has a limit that can't be crossed. In Gaza, the sea represents our current homeland, as well as the one we have lost, for the idea of 'this sea is mine' is also about Haifa and Umm el Fahem, as well as Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, cities in the West Bank hills which have been cut off from Gaza and from the coasts of Haifa and Yaffa.
Through these artworks, many stories about the idea of returning will be presented. This concept has to be embedded in our society as an alternative for the Nakba that people are currently living in historic Palestine; with the dream of returning back to Ramla, Yaffa, Acre, the Galilee, and all of Palestine.
When my family talk about the past, they oscillate between what happened in 1948, retelling stories passed to them by my grandparents about how they were forced to flee their homes, and the 1980s and narrating stories and anecdotes from what they've experienced firsthand. In the 1980s, there were less restrictions on the freedom of movement and people were able to drive across Palestine. My family used to go on trips to Tabrias, Galilee, Haifa, Lod… and so on. They used to make stops and visit the villages featured in the stories of my grandparents, with the hope and dream of returning one day.
Every time I listen to them, I imagine that I was with them.
In his series of portraits, Abed Al-Raouf Al-Ajuri invites us to visit what's behind. He strips away decoration and deceptive appearances, to leave us facing a state of touching vulnerability. He inscribes in the flesh of the body the story of those creatures imprisoned in a sealed off cosmos, where time has a different meaning. The faces in the portraits, closed off in their uniqueness don't allow us to be indifferent to them. They bring up the possibility of a journey across a land laced with emotions. In these drawings, and with great care and control of colour, Al-Ajouri has created his characters. They appear to embody a visible fragility, but the artist knows how to manipulate irony. Whether they are depicted alone or with others, they are deceptively seductive and in search of a look that promises a calmer future.
When you lose your land, your home and everything you own, you are left with nothing except your mind, your health, your hope and a determination to reclaim your future. As Ghassan Kanafani once said, 'I will never be defeated until I plant my heaven in my land, or uproot heaven from the sky, or die, or we shall die together'. In spite of the expulsion from land, the state of loss and the poverty, the Palestinian has set his sight on the future, prioritizing the education of his children. If Palestinians are to return in the future, this return will be mobilized by the educated. If children don't have shoes, let them go barefoot to school. If they don't have a school bag, let us sew them a bag from flour sacks. If we don't have money to send our children to college, let them work one day and go to college on another day. One day we will return.
I grew up watching my grandfather build fishing boats. He lived for the sea, and the sea was his life. I didn't know, back then, that my grandfather was one of the most important boat manufacturers, and that many boats sailing on the sea were made by him. My grandfather, Mahmoud, passed away in the beginning of 2016. But his boats are still swaying on the waves of the Gaza sea.
The artwork is an attempt to continue the journey of 'the trail of fish', an art project by Alaa al baba, in which the artist travels across multiple cities and villages in Palestine to paint fish on walls, to draw attention to the issue of Palestinian refugees. After several failed attempts to visit Gaza, the Ramallah-based artist wanted someone else to take on his project in Gaza, and I wanted to be that Artist. I wanted to shed light through my work on the suffering of Gazans in general, and the suffering of the residents of Al Shati' refugee camp in particular. The main issue being addressed in the work is the power cuts, which have led to the death of several people (including children) in fires caused by candles.
In a place that is besieged, is the sea enough? To escape? Is there enough horizon? What about when the sea has become another limit, where no one can come or leave except with a permit? This artwork is a series of paper boats of different sizes and colours.
The wall is the barrier, what lies behind it is what inhabits our dreams of return and freedom. The writings and drawings painted on it try to break it down symbolically. But irrespective of the writings on it – which vary from love letters, to poems, to expressions of protest and anger, to all kinds of announcements – the reality of the wall remains solid and the fact that the wall has witnessed all these events doesn't change the dream of breaking it and return.
The wall is not blocks of cement as most people think, but it is hatred armed with fear. The wall is the representation of thousands of soldiers standing in rows, blocking someone from achieving his goal. It is the fear rooted in the human being of the other. The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano writes: 'on one of the walls, a sentence is written: Here we sit, watching them kill our dreams.'
The wall has become the voice of the voiceless and a platform to express beauty, oppression and life.
'If you disagree, drink the water of the sea' is a popular proverb. Arafat used it in one of his speeches addressing Netanyahu. This artwork explores the meaning and the visual energy of this phrase.
The keffiyeh is a Palestinian national symbol. Revolutionaries wore it as an emblem of their struggle. Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. Jerusalem is depicted in this artwork through three main colours as a call for the rights of Palestinians.
Ruqaia Al-Lulu grew up in a refugee camp. Originally, she came from Lod, a city occupied by Israel in 1948.
The artist heard many stories from her relatives about refuge and migration. The artist had to carry an ID that says 'refugee'. The artist noticed that the UN flag replaced the Palestinian flag on buildings.
In the face of all of this, the artist made paintings about destroyed villages and the idea of returning to them. She knows that the part of Palestine from which her parents were expelled seems far away, but it is also buried deep in her heart.
I Am From There, Mahmoud Darwish
I am from there and I have memories. Like any other
Man I was born. I have a mother,
A house with several windows, friends and brothers.
I have a prison cell's cold window, a wave
Snatched by seagulls, my own view, an extra blade
Of grass, a moon at word's end, a life-supply
Of birds, and an olive tree that cannot die.
I walked and crossed the land before the crossing
Of swords made a banquet-table of a body.
I come from there, and I return the sky
To its mother when it cries for her, and cry
For a cloud on its return
To recognize me. I have learned
All words befitting of blood's court to break
The rule; I have learned all the words to take
The lexicon apart for one noun's sake.
In between love, exile and hope, of return and in hope of escaping.
My artwork was inspired by the stories of young migrants who have tried to leave Gaza by sea, and who are willing to travel thousands of miles in search of a better life and dignity. They leave on a one-way trip to face the rough sea with hopes of escaping a difficult reality. Some of them make it, some die, and some lose their family members, and their dreams become nightmares that haunt them for the rest of their lives.
I used to join him in the lifeguard tower, in the northern part of the fishing port. He used to watch the beach goers with his hawk-like eyes. On that day, he was anxious, and he didn't stop whistling and gesticulating with his arms. When I asked him what was wrong, he said: 'The sea was angry today, the sea wanted to take someone's life.' Then he added, 'Do you see who's swimming over there?' and he pointed towards two guys swimming near the shore. I kept watching them. Nothing happened, and I forgot about them until I saw a group of people gathering. My friend ran as fast as he could and he saved one of the guys while another lifeguard saved the other. My friend came back and said to me, 'Didn't I tell you?' When I visited him the next week, I asked him, who is going to drown today? He answered, 'no one, the sea is happy today.' This is my friend, Abu Ahed, the lifeguard.
This is how the sea is; one day it's upset and the other it's happy. Only the people who know the sea intimately can read it. In the last few years, the sea has taken many lives, some of them I know, and some I don't. But all of them were looking for a better life. This work is in honour of the people who have never emerged back out of the sea.
Mohamed Abusal (b. 1976, Gaza) is a multimedia artist based in Gaza. His Metro in Gaza (2012) project proposes seven metro lines connecting the different areas of the Gaza Strip. Shambar (2013) looks at Gazan's alternative and creative light solutions because of the continuous disconnection of electricity. Abusal has exhibited internationally, particularly in France where he has had several solo exhibitions, and in the US, UK, Australia and Dubai. He is a founding member of the Eltiqa artists' collective.
Abed Al-Raouf Al-Ajuri was born in Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza, in 1977. He has participated in many art activities and exhibitions, both in Palestine and abroad. His paintings are expressionist in style, but he also works in sculpture and had a solo exhibition of his sculpture at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center, Ramallah in 2003. He is a founder member of the Eltiqa group of artists, and is an administrative member of the Eltiqa gallery space.
Mohammed Al-Hawajri was born in the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza in 1976. His multimedia work encompassing painting, sculpture, photography, digital collage and performance has been widely exhibited in Palestine, and he has received invitations to participate in exhibitions, workshops and residencies in Britain, Italy, Jordan, France Switzerland, USA, Austria, Japan, Argentina, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt and Lebanon. He is a founding member of the Eltiqa artists' collective.
Diana Al-Hosary was born in Gaza in 1988. Her collage-based work has been included in many of the exhibitions that have taken place in Gaza, and beyond, in the exhibition Diary of our Lives Here in Gaza in Jordan, for example. In 2010 and 2011, Diana taught at Al-Aqsa University.
Ruqaia Al-Lulu was born in Gaza, where she currently lives and works. She graduated with a BA in painting from Al Najah University in Nablus in 1998, and in 2006 received her MA from Helwan University in Cairo, Egypt. Her work has been shown in exhibitions in Palestine, and since 1999 she has taught in a public school and also worked in the Fine Arts department at Al Aqsa University and Al Quds Open University in Gaza.
Basel El Maqousi (b. Gaza, 1971) is a painter, photographer and video artist. In 2003, he was awarded the Charles Asprey Award for Palestinian artists and shortlisted for the A.M. Qattan Foundation's Young Artist of the Year Award. He has been an artist-in-residence in Bangalore, India (2006), at the I-Park Foundation in the USA (2015), and was nominated by UNESCO for a residency in Algeria in 2013.
Dina Mattar (b. Gaza, 1985) graduated with a BA in fine art and education from Al Aqsa University in Gaza in 2007. Her work has been exhibited in many exhibitions in Palestine and regionally, as well as in Europe, the USA, South America and the UAE. In 2012 she was an artist-in-residence at Cité International des Arts in Paris. She lives and works in Gaza, and is a member of the Eltiqa artists' collective.
May Murad (b. Gaza, 1984) graduated with a BA in fine arts from Al Aqsa University, Gaza, in 2006. She has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine, in Jerusalem, Umm El Fahem, Nablus, Hebron and Ramallah, as well as in Sharjah and Dubai. She teaches art in Gaza, where she lives and works.
Sohail Salem (b. Gaza, 1974) is an artist and graphic designer who received his BA in fine arts from Al-Aqsa University in 1999. He has exhibited in many local and international exhibitions, has had four solo exhibitions and has been invited as an artist-in-residence in Switzerland (2005) and at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris (2010). He has taught at Al-Aqsa University and is one of the co-founders of the Eltiqa artists' collective.
Rufaida Sehwail, a Palestinian refugee from the town of Magdal, was born in Gaza City in 1987. She studied at Al-Aqsa University for her BA degree in visual art and a higher diploma in education. Her award-winning work incorporates visual art, photography and design, as well as making toys and using drawing to provide psychological support. She has had two solo exhibitions and has shown in more than forty group exhibitions.
Majed Shala was born in Gaza and graduated with a MA from Scranton University, USA in 2001. A member of the Palestinian Artists Union, he is a founding member of the Shababek gallery space and artists' group in Gaza. He has been an artist-in-residence at Darat al Funun in Amman, and has shown his work in many solo and group exhibitions in Palestine and regionally, as well as in South America, the UAE, the USA, South Africa and Europe.
Raed Issa was born in in Gaza in 1975. He was the first prizewinner in the A.M. Qattan Foundation's second Young Artist of the Year Award in 2002. Primarily a painter, Raed has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Gaza and elsewhere in Palestine, as well as internationally in Switzerland, France, the UK, Jordan, Lebanon and Australia. He is a founding member of the Eltiqa group of artists.
Shareef Sarhan (b. Gaza, 1976), is an artist, professional photographer and freelance designer. He is a founding member of the Shababek gallery space and group of artists in Gaza and an active member of the Association of Palestinian Artists. Sarhan has a diploma in arts from the University of ICS in the US and has exhibited widely in Palestine as well as in the wider Middle East, the Gulf and the US and the UK.