In search of beauty in besieged Gaza

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 14 Dec 2010

On Wednesday, the Arab League is simultaneously hosting an art exhibition, a literary seminar and a ministerial meeting - all on the Palestinian cause

Gaza Graffiti

Though Gaza is mired in so much poverty, so much destruction and pain, there are yet traces of beauty waiting to be captured; "and I look for those glimpses of beauty," said Swedish photographer Mia Grondahl.

The graffiti on the walls of war-wrecked and siege-beaten Gaza is, for Grondahl, one of the many signs of beauty. "It is the way people speak of everything from resistance to love in a very beautiful form," she explained.

Since her first visit to Gaza in 1993, until her most recent trip in the summer of this year, the Swedish photographer has amassed a large volume of photos from the impoverished Gaza Strip. Within this massive archive, there is a whole section on Gaza graffiti.

"Sometimes the drawing of these murals is in itself an act of resistance," the Swedish photographer told Ahram Online as she watched a limited selection of her graffiti photos being displayed in one of the main halls of the Arab League.

The Arab organisation, in parallel with hosting the Arab Ministerial meeting on the peace process on Wednesday, 15 December,  is also simultaneously hosting an exhibition on the Grondahl graffiti photos – as part of a wider literary seminar on 'Art and Resistance'.

For Grondahl, Gaza might be considered an open-air prison but "I don’t see how Palestinians living in Gaza would have made it without the sea – I am not sure they would have survived," she said.

For her, Gaza too is "an open art exhibition - with all this graffiti", she said.

"Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics" is the title of Swedish photographer Mia Grondahl's book which was printed by the American University in Cairo (AUC) in 2009 – not long after the Israeli war on Gaza ("Operation Cast Lead").  "Gaza Graffiti" compiles some of her best shots of the Gaza art display.

"Graffiti began in 1987, during the first Intifada, when there was no Palestinian television or radio in the Gaza Strip, and no newspapers: the messages that spread along the walls became an important means of communication," reads the first few lines of the book, presented alongside many shots, reflecting key events in recent Gaza history

Among these images are stirring reminders of the first days of the Intifada, the glorification of Hamas martyrs, the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by Israel, the destruction and reconstruction of houses after devastating Israeli raids and the weddings and pilgrimages of Gaza citizens.

In November, the AUC hosted an exhibition of the Gaza graffiti photos in cooperation with the Swedish Embassy in Cairo. Along with the exhibition, there was a panel discussion on the current situation in Gaza.

"The situation now is very bad," said Grondahl. The three-week war, that started on 27 December, lasting until 19 January, brought calamity and grave misfortune to the people of Gaza.

"I can even say that it challenged their sense of somoud (steadfastness); No matter what they go through Palestinians know how to stay put both emotionally and somehow physically; but this war did something about it," she added.

Today, Grondahl hopes that her exhibition will contribute to wider calls to end the Gaza siege. "This siege has to come to an end".

In January, the Swedish photographer is planning to take her exhibition to Amman. By March, she is planning to go to Stockholm to display the graffiti collection along with other photos that she has taken throughout her nine years of continuous visits to Gaza.

Along with the works of Grondahl, in Stockholm, there will be the works of another Swedish photographer, Per Olow Anderson.

Grondahl spoke of her compatriot, offering a glimpse into his history: "He came to Egypt right after the 1956 war (the Tripartite Aggression); he went to Gaza to take photos of the (1948 Nakba) refugees; then ( the late president Gamal  Abdel-) Nasser sponsored him to spend more time in Gaza and to document the Palestinian suffering there."

Upon discovering some of Anderson's work, Grondahl took the photos and went to Gaza to ask elderly people to identify the refugees in the photos; she managed to either trace some individuals or their families - but not all.

She photographed those who are left and in Stockholm next spring, she plans to put their pictures next to those taken by Anderson: "So that the world knows the remainder of the story, of what happened to those people there," she explained.

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