Thursday, August 6, 2020

Art as a tool of Palestinian Resistance

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Graffiti of former PFLP militant, Leila Khaled | Source: Edgardo W. Olivera via Flickr

The Israel-Palestine conflict is one that has been fraught with violence and displacement, more so for the Palestinians. This is a complicated history of war and disagreement over the possible solutions. However in recent years, the actions of Israel’s right-wing coalition government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are making the path to peace even more difficult.

Many artists, especially those of Palestinian origin, across the creative mediums, have turned to art as a medium of expression against the Israeli government’s repressive policies and to show the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Graffiti of  Marouane Barghouti, imprisoned Palestinian activist | Source: thierry ehrmann via Flickr

The heroes of Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation are a popular subject of resistance art by Palestinian artists. It is mainly expressed in the form of murals, graffities, and posters.

Another important theme in Palestinian art surrounds the Nakba, which refers to the exodus of a large number of Palestinians after the formation of the state of Israel.

Palestinian refugees leaving the Galilee in October–November 1948 | Source:  Fred Csasznik via Wikimedia

A popular street artist Banksy has left his unique mark in support of Palestinian resistance, and not just in the form of street art which lines the Israeli West Bank barrier and other areas of the West Bank.

Street Art by Banksy | Source: Dan Meyers via Unsplash

Banksy also opened the Walled Off Hotel in 2014 where all the rooms overlook the barrier or apartheid wall, as it is known in Palestine, and each contains various artworks depicting life under occupation.

The most recent contribution from Banksy in this regard has been a small art piece that was displayed inside the hotel last Christmas, called ‘The Scar of Bethlehem.’ It depicts a nativity scene (the birth of Jesus) set to the backdrop of the concrete barrier, with a bullet hole in it resembling a star and has garnered praise from many western news outlets as a symbol of solidarity with Palestinian suffering.

Posters, and innovative methods of distributing the same, are another form of artistic protest. These range from the posters by various artists published in a leftist French newspaper, meant to be cut out and pasted on walls by the public; to the Turkish graphic design professors using public walkways to exhibit posters in solidarity with Gaza.

A card marking the tenth anniversary of the launching of the Palestinian revolution in 1965 | Source: Nawal Abboud via The Palestinian Poster Archives

Posters have also sprung up in various places across the world, including Israel, calling for active demonstrations against Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank. All of the mentioned posters continue to be collected in the digital archives of the Palestine Poster Project.

Another popular collection dates back to 1970s Australia, circulated by Ali Kazak, a Palestinian ambassador, called “landscape posters” for their focus on Palestinian land. Many posters utilised symbols such as traditional Palestinian dresses, fruits such as olives and oranges, and keys, which refer to the refugees.

Some of the older art from around the 1970s focused on pre-war Palestinian life and culture, while the newer art takes a multi-media form through photographs, science fiction and films. Similarly, many murals can be found surrounding Land Day, which serves as a reminder of a massacre in 1976 in response to a protest.

Artistic symbolism also often uses the concept of Sumud, which means resilience in Arabic, and is used to refer to a “sense of rootedness” to Palestinian land.

Music also found its voice as a form of self-expression and resistance. In 2018, music platform Boiler Room hosted Boiler Room Palestine for the first time. The show featured a diversity of Palestinian artists from Palestinian and Israeli territories. The crew for the show had to enter Palestine through Israel, giving them a small taste of the limitation of movement for Palestinians.

Palestinian art continues to grow as a form of self-expression, as a form of resistance to Israeli policies, and as forms of cultural history in an endeavour to keep Palestinian spirits and identity alive as their lives get shrunk into smaller and smaller pieces of land.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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