Art in the time of apartheid: Has graffiti normalized the Israeli separation wall?
As universities across the world mark “Israeli Apartheid Week”, much discussion has been had over Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories. With senior U.N. official Richard Falk stating that Israel’s “prolonged occupation” in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip “constitutes apartheid and segregation,” what can be said about what is arguably the most symbolic example of an apartheid state, the separation wall?
Graffiti artist Hamza Abu Ayyash puts the wall into an artistic context, and asks whether by decorating it with works of now-famous art (love him or hate him, see Banksy’s “Make hummus not walls”), we are tacitly accepting the existence of a wall that defies human rights.
“There is no doubt that the Apartheid wall is a very tempting drawing surface for graffiti artists…if only it wasn’t the wall that it is. When taking the separation wall into consideration and all that it represents, one could argue that by drawing and beautifying it with graffiti, we are making the wall more acceptable to the viewers eye and a hence more acceptable as a structure.
If we take the example of Vince Seven’s Yasser Arafat graffiti on the wall, which lies near the Qalandia checkpoint, we see a poignant work of art that is widely liked by the public. Does this work serve to validate the existence of the wall?
The wall, although dominating the daily lives of those living in the occupied territories, does not belong to us, the Palestinians – we will always see it as a cancerous tumour. Any art that graces its concrete is only a superficial, cosmetic change – it does not change the meaning behind the wall.
Another point to take into consideration is the audience that the graffiti painted on the wall has – the messages of hope, despair, peace and love that adorn the beaten down concrete are not seen by the occupiers, the Israelis. They are seen by West Bank citizens who know all too well what the messages smeared in bright colors are telling them. The wall exists in a different space and reality when you’re on the “right side” of it – it even looks different. The wall’s existence is not reinforced by visual messages - it lies blank and untouched, pure and blank. The fact that it has not been taken to by artists perhaps indicates that it has already been normalized within Israeli society.
Although many are disbelieving about the mere existence of the separation wall, that the Israeli government would commission it in the first place is surprising; although not a new idea, separation barriers were built across Europe during World War II in a bid to keep the Jewish community far away from their gentile neighbors. Thousands of Jews were kept in near isolation in their designated territories in ghettos across Eastern Europe. Naturally, discussion of the Berlin wall has been brought up many times, with the new generation shaking their heads as to how such an oppressive structure could exist in Europe until 1990. Although ostensibly similar, the Berlin Wall and the Separation Wall vary significantly – the latter is more than 300 miles longer than its European predecessor and more than 10ft higher. That’s a lot more oppression. And by adorning the wall with empassioned quotes on freedom, are graffiti artists in Palestine inadvertently and unintentionally perpetuating the occupation?"
By Hamza Aby Ayyash and Maurizio Porcu
- Mary and Joseph hit the wall in Banksy's controversial Christmas cards
- If walls had eyes: Graffiti gives a voice to the politics of Palestine
- Santa can fly, even above the apartheid wall! Despite all, Bethelehem witnesses a resurgence in tourism
- Art in the time of war: Gaza's colorful walls tell a complex story