Tonight photographer Mia Grondahl opened an exhibition at American University, in honor of the English translation published with AUC Press of her book Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics. Before the gallery opening, she sat on a panel of experts on the state of the Gaza Strip since the Hannukah War of 2008/2009, the blockade, and the Freedom Flotilla.
Also on the panel were two Swedish journalists covering the region, and a Palestinian activist. They talked a lot about the dehumanization of the Palestinians by the media, which portrays them primarily as victims, which they are, but not often enough as human beings with personal joys and triumphs as well as personal dreams and tragedies. They talked at length about the need to build sympathy for the Palestinian cause by showing the people there as sympathetic, not as pitiful.
But Mia also talked about the graffiti movement in Palestine, which started in the 1980s during the first Intifada, when Israel had forbidden the Gazans from producing pamphlets or radio programs, and even from having telephones in many cases. Ever resourceful, Palestinians turned to graffiti as both a political tool and simply as a way to spread news. Graffiti artists themselves became polarized, some in the employ of Hamas, others in the employ of Fatah. Over time, Hamas developed a reputation for having the best calligraphers, because Arabic is a holy language, given to Muslims by God, and must be respected as such. Most recently, after Hamas’s election victory in 2006, Fatah graffiti has all but disappeared. All of this is chronicled in Mia’s book.
She also talked about how graffiti has begun to change again in the last couple of years, a change not reflected in her book but present in the photo exhibition at AUC. There’s a new movement now of art students and independent artists taking to the walls of Gaza. This time the message isn’t overtly political, or at least not in the way it’s been in the past. This new wave of artists is producing murals of their hopes and dreams. Images of how they imagine the world outside the massive prison that is Gaza. Images of breaking out of the Strip. You can see pictures of some of those murals on Mia’s blog. Even if you don’t read Swedish, she’s such an evocative photographer that you get the idea.