Gaza on Gaza exhibition
London - “I gathered together all my pencils, colours and drawing paper and hid them in a small bag. But the bombardment was faster than me. The Israeli assault did not give me time to escape with my dreams.”
With these powerful words, on the wall beside her drawings, 16-year-old Lama Shakshak talks about how she was pulled from the rubble when an Israeli missile destroyed her home in Gaza during the military offensive in 2014, which left 1,500 Palestinian civilians dead and more than 500,000 displaced from their homes. The United Nations estimates that nearly 400,000 children require some form of mental health support to cope with the events they experienced or witnessed.
Two of Shakshak’s black-and-white drawings are featured in the Through Young Eyes exhibition in London’s P21 Gallery, part of the Gaza on Gaza exposition of work by Palestinian artists.
Gaza on Gaza features art, photography, films and a programme of talks. It provides a record of the tragic destruction of Gaza through the eyes of Palestinian artists. The indomitable spirit of the Palestinian people and their refusal to surrender despite the devastation leaves visitors humbled and shamed that so little has been done to find a solution to this intractable conflict.
Gaza on Gaza is a voluntary group of creative individuals who came together in August 2014 to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the Israeli-blockaded seaside enclave. They are campaigning to end its root causes and to give a platform to local artists.
The upstairs gallery features only one art work: Majdal Nateel’s installation titled If I Wasn’t There. The wall of the gallery provides a white background to 400 drawings imagining the dreams and aspirations of children who died in the conflict. Fragments of paper bags, once used to deliver limited supplies of cement to families whose homes were bombed, form the canvas. The small coloured drawings of children evoke the simple question, “What would these children be doing if they were not in Gaza at the time of the bombing?”
Nateel’s installation was inspired by her experiences while volunteering with the United Nations and working with children in shelters during the conflict. The artist is the mother of two young daughters living in Gaza City. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Al-Aqsa University and has exhibited her work in Gaza, Jordan and Europe.
“I am dedicating my artistic tools to talk on behalf of the children who lost their voices simply because they were there. If I Wasn’t There is about this,” Nateel explained. “If I hadn’t been there maybe my mother would now be brushing my hair or making my favourite food. I wouldn’t just be a statistic broadcast on the news.”
The Through Young Eyes exhibition also features nine drawings of children who took part in a project run by Christian Aid partner, the Culture and Free Thought Association, an organisation that provides therapeutic activities for children and teens. The drawings show grief, sorrow and dismay but there is also hope as the perceptive, eloquent statements from the young artists show. Madeeha al-Majayda, 16, said: “As children, our dreams are limited. We dream to grow up, complete our studies and live in a place free of a blockade. Unfortunately these simple dreams cannot be achieved in Gaza.”
Her picture shows a girl clasping a rose in her hands behind her back. In front of her is a person with a gun. “I drew the picture The Hand that Carries the Arms Carries Roses Too to honour the innocent people who defend their land. I do this through my drawing and present them a rose.”
Sixteen-year-old Ayah Sha’ath has a message for children of the world, “We love you all and hope to see you in Gaza.” She shows a lonely new doll lying in the rubble; the child who played with the doll is gone forever.
Photos and short films are also featured in the exhibition. Amani Shaqawi, a freelance photographer and graphic designer from Gaza, presents a black-and-white photo of an Arab girl whose face is partially covered by a keffiyeh gazing into a coffee cup. What does she see? The questions that inevitably arise are left unanswered.
Short films are screened continuously throughout the exhibition in a small room beside the downstairs gallery. Here is Gaza by Abod Saymah and Mohamed Jabaly shows life in Gaza. Scenes of destruction are inevitable but there is also the joy of life, children continuously giving the victory salute, fishermen, ordinary people shopping and buying fruit, a kebab seller delighted at being photographed.
First drink (Water + Salt) directed by Yousef Nateel was inspired by Palestinian prisoners held under administrative detention who drink water with salt while on hunger strike. Young people also drink water with salt to share the experience of the detainees and comment on their experiences.
One Minute directed by Dina Naser is a docudrama about a mother and a baby in the heavily damaged Shujai’iya district of Gaza just before and during the 5-minute warning to evacuate which felt like 1 minute. A number of discussion meetings are being held in conjunction with the exhibition, including Art as Intervention exploring a range of artistic and imaginative strategies that address how art can be created and shared during times of conflict and occupation.