Acquainting oneself with the artistic expressions in Gaza, a victim of the Israeli-Egyptian embargo and home to 2 million Palestinians, turns watchers from disinterested onlookers to heart-provoked empathisers, much like a blank canvas that transforms into an alluringly intricate artwork.
In the midst of the Middle East’s ongoing strife, civilians have sought their own, however inventive, means of escape. On October 7, about 1,400 Israeli people were brutally slain, 3,500 were injured, and 200 were held captive during an arbitrary attack by the Islamist organisation Hamas, which governs Gaza. The Israeli military cut off food, water, and electricity to Gaza, and launched a campaign of persistent bombardment on the region, killing at least 7,326 Palestinians and injuring over 18,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Gaza had been under siege for 16 years, having been involved in four wars
Prior to the commencement of violence, Gaza had been under siege for 16 years, having been involved in four wars and several small-scale clashes with Israel since Hamas took power in 2006. The terrible unfolding of events, particularly Israel’s embargo of the region, has destroyed infrastructure as well as the economy. The cruel occupation’s constraints not only limit basic necessities like clean water, power, and essential medical treatment, but also stifle any artistic expression and trauma articulation.
Despite the competing sides’ eye-for-eye approach, the residents of the strip have restored self-autonomy through their touching artistic reactions. Following Israel’s five-day Operation Shield and Arrow in May, which resulted in the deaths of 33 Palestinians and two Israelis, graffiti artists altered wrecked houses, utilising them as canvases for their breathtaking artistic outcries. Palestinian artists found a variety of ways to express their sadness, wrath, and protest, most notably by transforming the rubble-filled house of Deir al-Balah into an enthralling exhibition for contributors to the ‘Occupation Kills Childhood’ street art display. The project attempted to draw attention to Israel’s prior air attacks that targeted children.
In a haunting parallel to the obscurity of her adolescence, one of the broken walls depicts an innocent Palestinian child emerging from the ruins while covered in blood and sobbing. An Israeli warplane is next to a picture of a young girl combing her hair on another wall in the exhibit. A rebellious fist with the words ‘Free Palestine’ was also among the works, as was an evocative image of Israeli missiles demolishing homes. On the other side of the open-air exhibit, remnants of missiles and rockets were displayed, emphasising the ambiguity of fighters and civilians in the midst of war violence.
Shireen Abdul Kareem’s enigmatic 3D-modeled videos through the lens of a shooter and her purposefully objective video games are two examples of how art has been transmitted. In her sculptures and sketches, she uses skeletal and vacuous female body types to express her own lack of physical and mental purpose. Others used fishing nets from Gaza to weave mermaids, and some used artwork to reflect Palestinian traditions, such as a woman picking fruit from a tree made up of red, orange, and green pointillist dots. The use of recycled materials, such as rubble, debris, and leftover metal from Israeli rockets, to mould sculptures and furniture, makes Gazan art more authentic despite a lack of access to expensive traditional materials.
Artists signed an open letter demanding immediate ceasefire from more than 2,000 visual artists
Islam challenges painters in the Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet) to ‘’breathe life’’ into their creations in strong statements on the subject of figural depiction. Both the Islamic and Jewish faiths share the perspective that the title ‘maker of forms’ or artist acts as an epithet for God. Equally, both design ceremonial objects and buildings with dazzling artistic detail, encapsulating the similarities within faith rather than the divisive elements that turn one man against another.
In the face of all adversity, art acts as a lifeline for many trapped within the physical and mental borders of colorless terrorism and conflict. Abdul Kareem says: “I would give anything to leave Gaza, and art is the way I feel free in this place, but it is still my home, and a part of me.”
Shareef Serhan, co-founder of one of the only artist collectives and gallery spaces in the entire Gaza strip, added, “Even if I got out of here, I would still make work about Gaza. The methods and tools might be different, but Gaza and its suffering would stay with me,” he says.
Aside from creation, artists have made their voices clear in signing an open letter demanding an immediate ceasefire from more than 2,000 visual artists, writers, and actors. The letter that circulated online condemned “collective punishment on an unimaginable scale” from Israel, appealing to arts organizations and institutions “to refuse inhumanity, which has no place in life or art”. The Israeli art community hit back with a statement of its own, arguing that “By ignoring the rights of all who live in Israel, it’s as if those who signed the letter are dehumanizing all of those who live in Israel, the 9 million people who have a right to exist.”