If walls had eyes: Graffiti gives a voice to the politics of Palestine

Published September 5th, 2012 - 17:49 GMT

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"The Arab spring has not only revolutionized street art but also inspired Palestinian artists to use city walls for creative political statements and to address social taboos — especially in Ramallah on the West Bank." Continue reading below »

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A stencil tag of Naji al-Ali with the message “25 years since al-Ali’s assassination” is painted on this wall in Ramallah. Famous for having fathered Handala, al-Ali was also very critical of the Palestinian leadership, which many Palestinians believe was the reason behind the unsolved murder in 1987.
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Image 1 of 13:  1 / 13A stencil tag of Naji al-Ali with the message “25 years since al-Ali’s assassination” is painted on this wall in Ramallah. Famous for having fathered Handala, al-Ali was also very critical of the Palestinian leadership, which many Palestinians believe was the reason behind the unsolved murder in 1987.

Enlarge
“Freedom for Khader Adnan” is written next to a stencil of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan with a lock over his mouth. Adnan became an icon after going on hunger strike for 66 days. He inspired not only other prisoners, but also activists who launched a campaign of stenciled tags on Ramallah walls and on Israel’s West Bank separation wall.
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Image 2 of 13:  2 / 13“Freedom for Khader Adnan” is written next to a stencil of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan with a lock over his mouth. Adnan became an icon after going on hunger strike for 66 days. He inspired not only other prisoners, but also activists who launched a campaign of stenciled tags on Ramallah walls and on Israel’s West Bank separation wall.

Enlarge
In Al-Amari Refugee Camp near Ramallah, this mural depicts two fingers raised in a V-for-victory sign, against a Palestinian flag. Palestinian street art has traditionally been characterized by simple slogans and recurring symbols such as Palestinian flags, doves, chains and closed fists.
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Image 3 of 13:  3 / 13In Al-Amari Refugee Camp near Ramallah, this mural depicts two fingers raised in a V-for-victory sign, against a Palestinian flag. Palestinian street art has traditionally been characterized by simple slogans and recurring symbols such as Palestinian flags, doves, chains and closed fists.

Enlarge
”Get mad — let the world know you are a magician, not bewitched” reads the text of street art in Ramallah by artist Hamza Abu Ayyash. Next to it is a stencil by artist Majd Abdel Hamid reading ’#OccupyWallStNotPalestine’ carrying a Twitter hashtag.
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Image 4 of 13:  4 / 13”Get mad — let the world know you are a magician, not bewitched” reads the text of street art in Ramallah by artist Hamza Abu Ayyash. Next to it is a stencil by artist Majd Abdel Hamid reading ’#OccupyWallStNotPalestine’ carrying a Twitter hashtag.

Enlarge
Hundreds of Palestinians jailed in Israel went on hunger strike this spring, inspiring many street artists, including Hamza Abu Ayyash. Here, a faceless prisoner has Israel and the Palestinian territories strapped to his back with his intestines.
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Image 5 of 13:  5 / 13Hundreds of Palestinians jailed in Israel went on hunger strike this spring, inspiring many street artists, including Hamza Abu Ayyash. Here, a faceless prisoner has Israel and the Palestinian territories strapped to his back with his intestines.

Enlarge
The infamous Palestinian uprising or Intfidada was all about a people armed with just rocks and stones: These stencils were spray-painted in Hebron in southern West Bank.Though Palestinian street art has seen a boost in creativity and aesthetics, local artists and experts still characterize it as new and experimental.
Reduce

Image 6 of 13:  6 / 13The infamous Palestinian uprising or Intfidada was all about a people armed with just rocks and stones: These stencils were spray-painted in Hebron in southern West Bank.Though Palestinian street art has seen a boost in creativity and aesthetics, local artists and experts still characterize it as new and experimental.

Enlarge
A green stencil of a woman sporting the keffiyeh with the word ”thouri” — revolt in Arabic — is tagged in the midst of Israeli street art in Jerusalem. A group of female Palestinian Jerusalemites use city walls in both Palestinian occupied East Jerusalem & Jewish West Jerusalem to mark their presence as both Palestinians and females.
Reduce

Image 7 of 13:  7 / 13A green stencil of a woman sporting the keffiyeh with the word ”thouri” — revolt in Arabic — is tagged in the midst of Israeli street art in Jerusalem. A group of female Palestinian Jerusalemites use city walls in both Palestinian occupied East Jerusalem & Jewish West Jerusalem to mark their presence as both Palestinians and females.

Enlarge
“The Intifada continues” says a stencil tag with a red outline of the map of Israel and the Palestinian territories on this Ramallah wall. Below it someone wrote “Where?” The walls are not only used to get messages across but also for others to answer back.
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Image 8 of 13:  8 / 13“The Intifada continues” says a stencil tag with a red outline of the map of Israel and the Palestinian territories on this Ramallah wall. Below it someone wrote “Where?” The walls are not only used to get messages across but also for others to answer back.

Enlarge
A young Palestinian tags the word 'Palestine' in Bethlehem. While graffiti is illegal in most Western countries many Palestinians welcome the decoration of their houses’ walls, but expect the message to be sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle.
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Image 9 of 13:  9 / 13A young Palestinian tags the word "Palestine" in Bethlehem. While graffiti is illegal in most Western countries many Palestinians welcome the decoration of their houses’ walls, but expect the message to be sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle.

Enlarge
Using city walls to address long-time taboos such as religion is a new phenomenon. This drawing in Ramallah shows a Christian cross inside the Islamic crescent next to the words 'Religion is forgiveness.'
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Image 10 of 13:  10 / 13Using city walls to address long-time taboos such as religion is a new phenomenon. This drawing in Ramallah shows a Christian cross inside the Islamic crescent next to the words "Religion is forgiveness."

Enlarge
During the second Intifada (2000-2005), drawings of ‘martyrs’ — Palestinian killed by Israel — mushroomed on city walls. Many of these commemorative paintings can still be found throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially in refugee camps like this one, Deheishe Refugee Camp, in Bethlehem.
Reduce

Image 11 of 13:  11 / 13During the second Intifada (2000-2005), drawings of ‘martyrs’ — Palestinian killed by Israel — mushroomed on city walls. Many of these commemorative paintings can still be found throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially in refugee camps like this one, Deheishe Refugee Camp, in Bethlehem.

Enlarge
A drawing of 'Handala' is depicted in red paint on this Ramallah wall. Handala is a cartoon character of a Palestinian refugee child created by late artist Naji al-Ali, and one of the most recognizable symbols of the Palestinian struggle.
Reduce

Image 12 of 13:  12 / 13A drawing of "Handala" is depicted in red paint on this Ramallah wall. Handala is a cartoon character of a Palestinian refugee child created by late artist Naji al-Ali, and one of the most recognizable symbols of the Palestinian struggle.

Enlarge
Israel’s West Bank wall is a great canvas for political art. At the Qalandia checkpoint by Ramallah, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and jailed activist Marwan Barghouthi are portrayed on a segment of the eight-meter concrete wall. Most drawings are executed by foreign artists as many Palestinians refuse to “beautify the wall.”
Reduce

Image 13 of 13:  13 / 13Israel’s West Bank wall is a great canvas for political art. At the Qalandia checkpoint by Ramallah, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and jailed activist Marwan Barghouthi are portrayed on a segment of the eight-meter concrete wall. Most drawings are executed by foreign artists as many Palestinians refuse to “beautify the wall.”

Enlarge

1

A stencil tag of Naji al-Ali with the message “25 years since al-Ali’s assassination” is painted on this wall in Ramallah. Famous for having fathered Handala, al-Ali was also very critical of the Palestinian leadership, which many Palestinians believe was the reason behind the unsolved murder in 1987.

Image 1 of 13A stencil tag of Naji al-Ali with the message “25 years since al-Ali’s assassination” is painted on this wall in Ramallah. Famous for having fathered Handala, al-Ali was also very critical of the Palestinian leadership, which many Palestinians believe was the reason behind the unsolved murder in 1987.

2

“Freedom for Khader Adnan” is written next to a stencil of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan with a lock over his mouth. Adnan became an icon after going on hunger strike for 66 days. He inspired not only other prisoners, but also activists who launched a campaign of stenciled tags on Ramallah walls and on Israel’s West Bank separation wall.

Image 2 of 13“Freedom for Khader Adnan” is written next to a stencil of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan with a lock over his mouth. Adnan became an icon after going on hunger strike for 66 days. He inspired not only other prisoners, but also activists who launched a campaign of stenciled tags on Ramallah walls and on Israel’s West Bank separation wall.

3

In Al-Amari Refugee Camp near Ramallah, this mural depicts two fingers raised in a V-for-victory sign, against a Palestinian flag. Palestinian street art has traditionally been characterized by simple slogans and recurring symbols such as Palestinian flags, doves, chains and closed fists.

Image 3 of 13In Al-Amari Refugee Camp near Ramallah, this mural depicts two fingers raised in a V-for-victory sign, against a Palestinian flag. Palestinian street art has traditionally been characterized by simple slogans and recurring symbols such as Palestinian flags, doves, chains and closed fists.

4

”Get mad — let the world know you are a magician, not bewitched” reads the text of street art in Ramallah by artist Hamza Abu Ayyash. Next to it is a stencil by artist Majd Abdel Hamid reading ’#OccupyWallStNotPalestine’ carrying a Twitter hashtag.

Image 4 of 13”Get mad — let the world know you are a magician, not bewitched” reads the text of street art in Ramallah by artist Hamza Abu Ayyash. Next to it is a stencil by artist Majd Abdel Hamid reading ’#OccupyWallStNotPalestine’ carrying a Twitter hashtag.

5

Hundreds of Palestinians jailed in Israel went on hunger strike this spring, inspiring many street artists, including Hamza Abu Ayyash. Here, a faceless prisoner has Israel and the Palestinian territories strapped to his back with his intestines.

Image 5 of 13Hundreds of Palestinians jailed in Israel went on hunger strike this spring, inspiring many street artists, including Hamza Abu Ayyash. Here, a faceless prisoner has Israel and the Palestinian territories strapped to his back with his intestines.

6

The infamous Palestinian uprising or Intfidada was all about a people armed with just rocks and stones: These stencils were spray-painted in Hebron in southern West Bank.Though Palestinian street art has seen a boost in creativity and aesthetics, local artists and experts still characterize it as new and experimental.

Image 6 of 13The infamous Palestinian uprising or Intfidada was all about a people armed with just rocks and stones: These stencils were spray-painted in Hebron in southern West Bank.Though Palestinian street art has seen a boost in creativity and aesthetics, local artists and experts still characterize it as new and experimental.

7

A green stencil of a woman sporting the keffiyeh with the word ”thouri” — revolt in Arabic — is tagged in the midst of Israeli street art in Jerusalem. A group of female Palestinian Jerusalemites use city walls in both Palestinian occupied East Jerusalem & Jewish West Jerusalem to mark their presence as both Palestinians and females.

Image 7 of 13A green stencil of a woman sporting the keffiyeh with the word ”thouri” — revolt in Arabic — is tagged in the midst of Israeli street art in Jerusalem. A group of female Palestinian Jerusalemites use city walls in both Palestinian occupied East Jerusalem & Jewish West Jerusalem to mark their presence as both Palestinians and females.

8

“The Intifada continues” says a stencil tag with a red outline of the map of Israel and the Palestinian territories on this Ramallah wall. Below it someone wrote “Where?” The walls are not only used to get messages across but also for others to answer back.

Image 8 of 13“The Intifada continues” says a stencil tag with a red outline of the map of Israel and the Palestinian territories on this Ramallah wall. Below it someone wrote “Where?” The walls are not only used to get messages across but also for others to answer back.

9

A young Palestinian tags the word 'Palestine' in Bethlehem. While graffiti is illegal in most Western countries many Palestinians welcome the decoration of their houses’ walls, but expect the message to be sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle.

Image 9 of 13A young Palestinian tags the word "Palestine" in Bethlehem. While graffiti is illegal in most Western countries many Palestinians welcome the decoration of their houses’ walls, but expect the message to be sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle.

10

Using city walls to address long-time taboos such as religion is a new phenomenon. This drawing in Ramallah shows a Christian cross inside the Islamic crescent next to the words 'Religion is forgiveness.'

Image 10 of 13Using city walls to address long-time taboos such as religion is a new phenomenon. This drawing in Ramallah shows a Christian cross inside the Islamic crescent next to the words "Religion is forgiveness."

11

During the second Intifada (2000-2005), drawings of ‘martyrs’ — Palestinian killed by Israel — mushroomed on city walls. Many of these commemorative paintings can still be found throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially in refugee camps like this one, Deheishe Refugee Camp, in Bethlehem.

Image 11 of 13During the second Intifada (2000-2005), drawings of ‘martyrs’ — Palestinian killed by Israel — mushroomed on city walls. Many of these commemorative paintings can still be found throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially in refugee camps like this one, Deheishe Refugee Camp, in Bethlehem.

12

A drawing of 'Handala' is depicted in red paint on this Ramallah wall. Handala is a cartoon character of a Palestinian refugee child created by late artist Naji al-Ali, and one of the most recognizable symbols of the Palestinian struggle.

Image 12 of 13A drawing of "Handala" is depicted in red paint on this Ramallah wall. Handala is a cartoon character of a Palestinian refugee child created by late artist Naji al-Ali, and one of the most recognizable symbols of the Palestinian struggle.

13

Israel’s West Bank wall is a great canvas for political art. At the Qalandia checkpoint by Ramallah, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and jailed activist Marwan Barghouthi are portrayed on a segment of the eight-meter concrete wall. Most drawings are executed by foreign artists as many Palestinians refuse to “beautify the wall.”

Image 13 of 13Israel’s West Bank wall is a great canvas for political art. At the Qalandia checkpoint by Ramallah, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and jailed activist Marwan Barghouthi are portrayed on a segment of the eight-meter concrete wall. Most drawings are executed by foreign artists as many Palestinians refuse to “beautify the wall.”

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The walls are closing in but that doesn't stop the creative process from subverting the state. If only they had ears they would say: Gaza is running out of clean water; Hamas and Fatah are no closer to reaching a deal and the Israeli settlements keep going. Palestinians use graffiti to express themselves when other tools are censored and they feel barricaded in by the  Israeli Occupation. The very walls that confine them, also free them, as a conduit or canvas for their art and speech. 

What have the Palestinians to say on the matter of censorship and state oppression? Grafitti and street art tell their story. Safe from the censoring eyes of the state through internet or media, they have at least the bare walls to make their mark on, un-fettered here, while strangled-in, within Gaza or prison. The result of the scratchings and drawings on public surfaces is art for politic's sake.

Palestinians have famously graffitied their imposed Wall (the Israeli West Bank Barrier) though some refuse to play a part in making what is a hostile towering barricade any more aesthetically pleasing. Instead, guest street artists have been more than happy to oblige filling the blank concrete space stretching 8 meters, including infamous Banksy. But those resourceful Palestinians don't have to limit themselves to Israel's wall for their canvas and can count on regular pre-existing walls and other stone structures to hand.

To the back drop of  global street art exhibition, featuring many Arab Spring graffiti artists, "White Wall", in Beirut starting tomorrow, we take a look at the most recent raw exhibits coming to a street near you in Palestine, courtesy of journalist Lena Odgaard.

 

Free yourself to share your comments on the raw public art of the streets. Include thoughts on Palestinian street artists as well as other Arab graffiti artists operating this time.

 

 

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