Crescent Arts Centre Hosts Windows Into Gaza
Mohammed Al Hawajri on the challenges faced by Palestinian artists in bringing their art to Ireland
This is our first exhibition in Ireland as Palestinian artists from Gaza. This exhibition is a very important artistic event through which we hope to provide an authentic picture of cultural life in Gaza, a place which has been under siege for more than seven years.
At the outset, I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to our friend, the artist Felim Egan, and Gaza Action Ireland, for this exhibition would not have been possible but for their efforts and faith in the justice of the Palestinian cause.
The idea for this group exhibition was born in January 2013 when Felim was visiting us in Gaza, and required much research, coordination and preparation. The difficult circumstances of life in Gaza are responsible for the delayed execution of this project.
Despite a number of obstacles, communication between us and Felim continued without interruption, and this has made possible the fulfillment of our wish to present this work to an Irish audience – an audience to whom we extend our greatest respect and appreciation.
During the course of our work, we managed to come up with various ideas to overcome the problems which we encountered, particularly those related to the transportation of the artwork from Gaza to Dublin. These included the following: Our friend, Felim, had intended to travel to Gaza again in order to pick up the paintings himself but security issues relating to developments in the region and, in particular, in Egypt prevented that from happening.
The situation, therefore, became more complicated, since in Gaza we are prohibited from using the ordinary postal system or even swift international courier companies to send items over a pre-determined size. Size restrictions on items which we are allowed to send out of Gaza are determined by Israel – this is a result of the tightening of the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Despite this difficulty, and thanks to continued attempts and intensive coordination efforts, we managed to transport the artwork to Jerusalem via a diplomatic employee of an international organization working in Gaza. Through coordination between Felim and the staff of the Irish embassy, the artwork was then transported from Jerusalem to Dublin.
We consider the successful transmission of the artwork to represent a small triumph against the siege, which has kept 1.7 million of our people living under very difficult circumstances. These difficult circumstances, which flow directly from the closure of our borders, include regular power cuts, shortages of medicine, foodstuffs and other basic items.
Gaza is rich in creative energy possessed by its young artists who, using their own initiative, embark on various creative activities, including the holding of exhibitions, the making of short films and writing short stories and other artistic endeavours. This activity takes place and perseveres despite little in the way of resources and funding.
However, sometimes this activity loses momentum and stagnates because these young artists do not get the opportunity to present their work as they should. In Gaza, the supportive infrastructure and cultural institutions necessary for such artistic work are lacking. We do not have a proper movie house or an appropriately fitted theatre – but there is the will to create art despite these limitations.
The obstacles that artists face are numerous. Among these is the absence of infrastructural venues as mentioned above – the only gallery in Gaza is the Eltiqa Gallery of Contemporary Art. This gallery was established in 2002 following efforts by a group of young artists of which I am a member. The Eltiqa Gallery hosted the first modern art exhibition in Gaza and it is through this gallery that we liaise with partners around the world.
Since 2010, we have been collaborating with several local civil society institutions in Eltiqa Gallery to carry out a number of initiatives, such as the hosting of workshops and individual and collective art exhibitions.
The most important of these activities was the GAZ’ART workshop, which was developed following the 2008/9 assault on Gaza and which has become an annual event. The GAZ’ART annual event has had a positive influence on the artistic community and on audiences who, following the stress caused by the assault, have received the event well.
In Gaza, we also have the French Cultural Centre, which has played an important role in supporting and funding our artistic activities. The fact that this centre has made possible the transmission of artwork to the outside world, such as Jerusalem and the West Bank, has had a positive influence on the artistic community and encouraged its members to continue their work and inspired their efforts.
I would like to highlight the work of my colleagues in the Windows into Gaza collective, who have played a role in the support of various artistic endeavours by youth groups and children. They are involved in a number of projects among which the most important is the Gaza International Festival for Video Art. Gaza is a city of ideas that inspires artists, and its people love life and peace.
Windows Into Gaza runs in the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast until May 24.