Amid a mass of graves, a flower blooms out of a small crack. This image is one of many paintings on the walls that imprison Gaza. Those walls, which represent the restrictions placed on the Palestinians by the occupation, have become a canvas for beautiful murals, calligraphy and political slogans. They are also a tool for the commemoration of martyrs and were the means of communication during the first Intifada.
An exhibition featuring these graffiti-works was inaugurated yesterday at the American University in Cairo's (AUC) main campus. Mia Grondahl, a Swedish photo-journalist, documented the art of graffiti on the walls of Gaza over the span of seven years and collected them in her book: Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics.
The exhibition included pictures portrayed in her book as well as some new photographs. A book signing then followed.
The book is divided into several chapters, each with a function of the graffiti. There is the graffiti during the Intifada, the graffiti by Hamas and Fatah and their constant competition for outreach. There are portraits, wedding congratulations and the collaborative projects of murals painted by fine arts students, who receive funding from volunteer organisations.
Prior to the opening of the exhibition, several journalists were hosts for a panel discussion entitled ‘What’s happening inside the closed borders?’ and the Warsha troupe held a performance of music and monologue recitation at Ewart Hall in the AUC campus.
The discussion was moderated by Amira Howeidy and included Swedish journalists, Cecilia Udden, Lotta Shullerqvist and Mia Grondhal, as well as the Palestinian journalist, Sami Abu Salem. Several issues were discussed, such as the Gaza blockade, the smuggling of goods, Hamas and their monopoly over the graffiti walls, as well as resistance through graffiti.
“During the first Intifada the writings on the wall were the main news channel,” said Abu Salem “my brother was shot and died while painting graffiti.” Other than being a form of resistance, the graffiti is also used as a healing tool. “One of the graffiti artists has lost nine members of his family and both of his legs and was still painting,” said Grondahl.
The discussion was followed by the Warsha troupe performance. Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry set to Marcel Khalifa’s music was sung by Dalia el Guindy and Mohamed Ismail. Two monologues were recited. The first was one of the Gaza Mono-Logues, a project initiated by the Ashtar theatre in Palestine, which held creative writing workshops for youths from the age of 14-18. The work of these youths was later turned to monologues performed world-wide. The other monologue was from the journal of Rachel Corrie, who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while acting as a human shield to a Palestinian house. The Warsha performance finished with “Jaffra,” a popular Palestinian song.
The opening of the gallery then took place. The photographs varied, some were only of the graffiti painted, while others were of Palestinians going about their daily lives with the graffiti as merely the background. There were also several pictures that showed graffiti walls in destroyed areas. The most gripping photographs were those of the murals. One picture, painted mostly in black with some splashes of yellows and dark blues, portrayed vertical columns with people inside, representing their imprisonment and despair. Another one, sort of a 'Pied Piper' representation, was of children holding the dead body of a boy and following a beautiful woman with long, flowing hair.
The exhibition will be open every day until the end of November from 9 am - 4 pm except for Fridays and Saturdays.