Painter brightens lives with colour on Gaza walls
Gaza City - A painter came up with an idea that has picked up like wildfire in Gaza. He is painting the walls in a small neighbourhood with bright colours to try to alter people’s gloomy moods.
The southern district of Zeitoun — Arabic for “olives” — is named after the copious olive groves minutes away from the shore of the Mediterranean. There, painter Mohamed Saeedi, 58, and friends and neighbours coloured the walls in their area, ridding grubby white walls of political graffiti to, as Saeedi said, bring joy and calm to the inhabitants.
“I’m so happy that we turned our neighbourhood into a huge splendid portrait from colours that bring happiness and calm to the people,” Saeedi said.
“Our neighbourhood has become a landmark in town, called the coloured district.”
Gaza is a densely populated enclave filled with rubble from buildings damaged during the 2014 Israeli war. Barefooted children play near streams of sewage between homes where the walls of the narrow alleys brim with political graffiti.
Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers are shunned by much of the international community. Arabs are largely opposed to Hamas’s hard-line dogma and their 2007 violent takeover of the territory from the moderate Palestinian Authority.
Economically, Gaza is under a stringent Israeli siege to weaken Hamas. Promised global aid for reconstruction has been delayed as many countries hesitate to improve conditions in a territory controlled by a group that seeks Israel’s destruction. Unemployment stands, under modest estimates, at 43%, while half of the population of 1.8 million is considered to be living in poverty.
Saeedi’s initiative of painting the walls using bright colours, such as turquoise blue, flashy orange, screaming green and rosy red was the most popular among five other neighbourhood suggestions to give a facelift to the war-stricken area. Others proposed white or greyish-coloured walls or street decorations.
Saeedi said he savours Turkish-style decor, also called Moorish, which is a home interior design that flourished in the latter half of the 19th century. It involves arched rooms with bead curtains, potted palms, mats, a divan and small tables heavily inlaid with Arabic designs. He said he started at home, repainting its walls with bright colours. Since he has no garden, he painted the exterior walls with flowers and roses. Saeedi’s three co-workers — Imad Nayef, his brother Hamada and their neighbour Ahmad Haddad — painted the walls of ten other homes in the area.
“With all the colouring around, people liked the idea and asked me to continue,” Saeedi said. “But the cost of painting the entire neighbourhood was far too high for me, so Gaza artist Dalia Abdul Rahman decided to chip in.”
Saeedi’s brainchild was also embraced by a group of Gaza youths, members of Tamer Institute for Community Education, who brought brushes and painting materials and began a campaign of beautifying the walls of 30 more houses in Zeitoun.
“I liked Saeedi’s idea,” explained Abdul Rahman. “So, I contacted Tamer Institute, presented the idea to them and they welcomed it,” she maintained. She said with Saeedi, his colleagues and Tamer’s volunteers, “paint, brushes and other painting material were brought in and, altogether, we painted many more homes and expanded the area of the coloured district”.
Saeedi said he intended to continue his project, which he labelled “after war and destruction, with roses and colours, Gaza excels”.
He said the roses will come once the painting is completed. He plans to buy pots and plant flowers in them and put roses across the city, except in the old quarters, Saeedi insisted.
“The neighbourhoods are too crowded over there, so planting a public garden is impossible,” he explained.
Saeedi shared a secret on his work. He said to lower costs, since painting material is expensive for outdoors, he replaced cement with clay and used stone collected from demolished buildings to decorate garden and street walls. Saeedi also coloured used vehicle tires and hung them on the walls.
His message to his fellow residents: “Chip in the work or the dough to make this project a success.”
One of Saeedi’s admirers, neighbour Ahmad Kuhail, said Gazans liked the painter’s Turkish style having watched Turkish soap operas on television. “They are fond of Turkish drama, so they liked what they see in the streets,” Kuhail said.