I wanted to post this later, but given the IDF’s current military operation against Gaza now with dozens of civilian deaths just last night alone, the artist Areej Mawasi asked me to post this in order to shed light about what’s happening in Palestine.
Areej is originally from the Northern town of Baqa El Gharbia. She now lives in East Jerusalem, and she studies at the Hebrew University. These are her own words.
‘In my opinion, graffiti in Palestine is not as professional as it is in other countries – even though the separation wall and many other places are full of great street art, but still many of the works are made by international artists. And few of them are female.’
‘I started making graffiti using stencils and my own designs. First, I made graffiti in my own neighbourhood, like ‘Fee Amal’ [There is hope]. That’s on the wall next to my house, so I hope whoever sees it gets positive energy and prays for me.’
Three years ago, Areej participated in a street exhibition concerning human rights of civilians during war. She made a design of Apaches dropping rockets over a seaside playground in Yafa.
‘I chose the picture [of Yafa] because, Yafa is under an apartheid and everyone is ignoring that. The people there are living in terrible conditions. The picture is also about Gaza.’
The poster was supposed to be exhibited in an ‘Israeli’ city. One day after the exhibition launched, Zionist groups protested her work, accusing her of describing the Israeli occupation army as a killing machine. Areej’s poster along with two other pieces were removed from the exhibition, a sign of how powerful her art was. Furthermore, the protesters asked the Israeli Interior Ministry to punish the municipality of the city for allowing this art to be shown.
‘[Their reaction] made me appreciate the power of art more, I mean, I did not do anything, but, they got my message.’
Three years later, Gaza is still under siege and almost daily attacks, and again, the whole world is not really doing anything about it.
So Areej adapted her Gaza design to a more sarcastic art piece featuring Martin Luther King pointing at the words There Is Hope as rockets rain down on the hope.
‘I’m just wondering what’s next, should we be hopeful till the end? Should we act the way Luther King did? Should we stay silenced when occupation is attacking the minimal we have left, the only thing that make us wake up full of energy every morning even though everything in our life is controlled? Should we say ‘There is hope’ when our dreams and our hope are controlled? That’s my question.’
Gaza is under attack by the IDF and civilians continue to pay the price, with bombings happening day and night, Areej added.
‘There’s not much awareness to the visual shape of the city, no awareness and no appreciation to graffiti. But graffiti is the only weapon I can handle. I know that protests are often futile, but this is the best I can do under the circumstances!’
Her work may be little in volume, but the sheer volume of emotions and power in her simple message and imagery to me perfectly exemplifies the root of protest art; it is based in raw and real struggle; be it against oppression, persecution, or death.
Despite the renewed attacks, Areej continues to work on her projects, including an upcoming collaboration with a fellow Palestinian female graffiti artist.
You can read her heart-wrenching anecdotes on her friends’ and families’ lives through the bombings on twitter at @rejism90 and on Facebook.