Reluctant artist highlights Palestinians’ plight
London - On a white wall at the top of the stairs leading to her exhibition in West London’s P21 Gallery, Susan Boulter has written definitions of “human” and “humane” in her neat, flowing handwriting: “Human — characteristics of mankind as opposed to God, showing the better nature of man, Humane — benevolent, compassionate.”
“As you look at each work think about an answer to the question of the title,” Boulter requests in another line of handwriting under the definitions, introducing her Are We all Human(e)? exhibition.
“I am not an artist… Inspired by attacks and atrocities, ten years ago my ideas came to be made into physical form,” Boulter, quoted on the exhibition website, said of the Israeli occupation and conflicts in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The maker of these works is not important,” she said. “I reject entirely the notion of artist. The exhibition is the result of ten years of increasing anger… Economic inequality in the world is getting worse: those who ‘have not’ are paying for the crimes of those ‘who have’.”
Boulter is eager to draw attention to UN resolutions being unscrupulously violated. “Atrocities and attacks in the name of power and oil are being carried out. Palestine is under constant attack, physically, economically and with a barrage of propaganda against the Palestinian people,” she said on the website.
“Unscrupulous exploitation — culturally, morally, economically — the denial of human rights and the absence of the rule of law, both internationally and nationally, are endemic: are we not all being used as pawns for the benefit of those in power? This is a call to action as much as it is an exhibition.”
The exhibition is one of contrasts. Beautiful acrylic and collage works, embroidery and knitwear are used to portray harsh realities. Behind the shutters of the windows on the embroidered “adventures calendar”, Boulter has neatly typed information about life in Palestine: “Under international law Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal;” “sixty percent of farmers are cut off from their land by the wall.”
On another embroidery, the game of hopscotch, played by children all over the world, is given a political dimension when number nine “home” is labelled “Palestine”. “Not made in Israel” is the label on knitted socks and the special relationship between the United States, Britain and Israel is illustrated on an embroidery thread work with the flag of each country.
Boulter also uses embroidered words to raise awareness about conflict and suffering. Canvas and a variety of threads make a check list of words for non-governmental organisations: “abandon”, “barbaric” and “catastrophe”.
In a small room inside the gallery, bees made from knitted yarn and polyester stuffing hang from the ceiling. They resemble toys frequently hung above children’s cots. But on the ground are stones covered in blood. The bees are symbolic of the deadly drones and the haunting, melancholy music of Ibrahim Maalouf’s Maeva in Wonderland fills the room.
In a short video: Gaza: a bit of colour prevails, young artist Walaa Abu Al-Eish tells her story. “My ultimate aim is to promote the Palestinian cause to the world,” she said proudly. In Israeli-besieged Gaza, it is not possible to get painting materials but Abu Al-Eish is not deterred; she uses paints made from spices to create works with vibrant colours.
The international dialling code series of ink on paper consists of advertisements pinned to the wall with the phone number of the “advertiser”: “Family needs food, will sell my Holy Quran only to a museum who will treasure it”; “No hope here, please adopt three children”; “moving sale: five litre plastic water containers, blast proof curtains, ten rolls of razor wire, two diesel generators”; “want to get away, I will help you cross the ocean — £10,000 adult, £5,000 child.”
One of the most haunting works is an acrylic collage of children’s bodies cut off at the waist sitting on swings. The title of the work is the children were playing on the beach — a reference to four boys killed by Israeli soldiers while playing on the beach in Gaza in 2014.
This is not a work that is laboured and agonised over: it is thought, made, resolved and left to speak its story for itself, Boulter says in the leaflet accompanying the exhibition.
Boulter’s exhibition succeeded in challenging the audience to think and to act, to become more than audience, by seeking to answer the question on whether we are “human” or “humane”. The obvious message that Boulter wanted to convey is that we are all part of the same human family.