Palestinian Artists Examine Life Under Occupation

I have always felt that artists are the cultural and social sounding board of our society. What we might have trouble putting into words or expressing about a particular issue, artists seem to be able to capture that essence with the stroke of a paintbrush, a camera lens or through beautifully written prose.

When I first visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories, an area sandwiched between the borders of Israel and Jordan, I was overwhelmed with what I saw. Walls, barbed wire, checkpoints, armed soldiers and rules that defied imagination. Feeling angry, confounded, sad — I set out to better understand how generations of Palestinians within this decade’s long military occupation have continued on-going efforts of resistance despite so many (often infuriating) challenges. So I went looking for the artists.

A Palestinian woman and her children approach a check-point in the divided city of Hebron, OPT. Photo By Sarah Tesla

Banksy might have brought international attention to these issues through the creation of the Walled Off Hotel and the massive graffiti murals that cover sections of the infamous separation wall. But before Banksy arrived, artists like Monther Jawbreh and Bashir Qonqar who grew up here had been grappling with these realities as refugees on their own land. As they grew up in these surroundings and were confronted daily with the challenges and restrictions of life under occupation both artists in their own unique way found a way to express their resistance by producing provocative and visually compelling work.

Graffiti on the Palestinian side of the separation wall in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, OPT. Photo By Sarah Tesla

Any critical thinking associated with a creative process is a kind of resistance, and any kind of resistance is a political act. So I might see myself as doing a kind of resistance but not in the typical definition of resistance.

~ Bashir Conqar

I had the opportunity to visit both artists in their studios in Bethlehem in 2017. They were generous with their time and their ideas. And while the political and social landscape may have shifted (for better or worse) since 2017, one thing that has remained constant is their commitment to exploring difficult political and social realities through artistic expression.

Here is a selection of photos taken from these studio visits, which show a glimpse of the compelling work of these artists.

Monther Jawbreh unrolling ‘As Once Was Known’, Acrylic on canvas. Photo By Sarah Tesla

‘As Once Was Known’ is a collection of work that revolves around Monther’s research and expanding the concept of Palestinian popular resistance.

Source: What is Known, by Monther Jawbreh.

 

Monther Jawbreh standing in his studio in Bethlehem, 2017. Photo By Sarah Tesla

 

The Revolution is Led By a Hero, Digital Print. By Monther Jawbreh

Shedding light on two different era’s, the Palestinian face cover and Jasmine which is connected to children who died in Gaza, this piece is an attempt to rid the Palestinian kuffiyya — with it’s white and black colours — of it’s “symbolism” to change the concept of freedom fighter.

Source: What is Known, by Monther Jawbreh.

New work by Monther Jawbreth explores demolition and construction. Source: Monther Jawbreh

“The act of resistance is still present in the artwork as it transforms concepts to action; from a political idea to an artistic act. The work goes beyond direct expression and literal meaning towards a discussion on acts of resistance and the factors that influenced the conditions of how the original artwork was previously produced.”

~ Monther Jawbreh

 

Bashir Qonqar moves a painting in his studio in Bethlehem, OPT, 2017. Photo By Sarah Tesla

[Life during COVID] is a strange feeling, people are afraid of each other, everyone is a suspect until he proves he has nothing. The system is not collapsing, but it is getting redesigned and people must act accordingly. In a way, all of this reminds me of my life back home in Palestine!

 

Inside the studio space of Bashir Qonqar, 2017. Photo By Sarah Tesla

 

A Tale of Two Cities, 2017. Mixed media on canvas by Bashir Qonqar. Source Artsy.net
New work by Palestinian artist Bashir Qonqar on exhibition this month in Germany. Source: Bashir Qonqar

To see current exhibitions of Bashir’s work visit:

  • Handwerkhaus/ Bad Goisern/ Austria
  • Brühl Germany from the 2nd of October for 2 months
  • Gmunden Austria (Kunstforum Salzkammergut) starting the 1st of November.

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