Palestine Monitor, 4 November 2010
The devastated Gaza strip, still reeling from Operation Cast Lead and scarred by chronic rates of poverty and malnutrition, would be few artists’ idea of a creative paradise. For Mohammed Al-Hawajri, recently honoured with Birzeit University’s artist of the month award, the “life rich in details and contradictions” is one he would not swap for Manhattan or Barcelona.
Mohammed, 34, is a lifelong resident of the strip, although his exhibitions have travelled the world. He works in varied forms, including sculpture, photography and video art, but his preferred tool is a pencil. “I love simply drawing,” he says, “it is the origin and beginning of art.” He moved into other forms to bypass Gaza’s movement restrictions, as photography and video are better suited to the internet.
Mohammed’s most striking works, which earned him his first solo exhibition outside the strip, (in Ramallah, 2000) feature the prominent use of bones and cactuses. “I lived near the Gaza valley, where all the waste and bones would collect and I realised I could use them. I like the form of the cactus, the barrier, which is a rich symbol for Palestinians.”
He believes that artists in Gaza balance escapism with seeking to reflect the grim realities in creative forms. “People living here create new ways to cope with life. I do not want to be a political analyst, but I want to give a picture of people in Gaza. We love life and we live peacefully. Foreign audiences can see this in the work of our artists. Recently the artistic movement is very strong here, because there is a generation of young artists who want to prove this fact. But artists cannot separate themselves from reality, as with Picasso showing the war which wiped out the village in Guernica”.
Mohammed is part of the Eltiqa collective, which teaches classes to the numerous aspiring artists in the strip. He finds the experience of teaching bittersweet. “When I’m drawing with the children I feel sadness. It is a joy to remove innocent children from the state which controls them, the fear and panic, the war and aggression, so that they can dream. Unfortunately that escape is confined to leaves of paper.”
Flourishing interest in the arts is not limited to the younger generation. Mohammed says that exhibitions are always well attended, by patrons from every demographic. A new gallery has been opened, which hosts weekly seminars, discussions and concerts. New hip-hop bands are springing up all the time. Mohammed describes a close, supportive environment within the artistic fraternity. “Those who believe in change and dream to live in a more harmonious society are generous with their ideas and enthusiasm.”
He believes desire and ingenuity can compensate for the limitations applied by both the Israeli siege and a conservative Hamas government. “We experience difficulties with a lack of technical tools, especially for sculpture and photography. But despite this deficit we search for alternatives.” Al-Hawajri’s own ‘Spirit and Perfume’ exhibition, which was taken to Paris in 2008 made an advantage of deprivation. Without the paints he needed, Al-Hawajri used spices, which gave him colour as well as the extra dimension of fragrance. The exhibition was a great success, with the Parisian audiences thrilled by the added experience of being able to smell paintings.
Not every boundary can be surmounted. Gazan artists are frequently invited to exhibitions abroad, but the vast majority are denied permits. Although Mohammed has been fortunate to be granted permission to travel, owing to his higher status, it saddens him that so many of his peers are refused. “It is the most difficult thing. The denial of participation and transfer of their art, and also depriving them of the exchange of experience with artists of the world.”
He is critical the Hamas government for not supporting the arts. “They do not take care of culture because their concern is only politics, which they use to make money. This is something shameful. For many years no exhibitions were organised, they are very important for the people but not for the government.”
Al-Hawajri enjoys spending time abroad, but cannot stay away for long. “I like the freedoms in the West, but my thoughts and my art come from the crowded streets and markets of Gaza. Life is not natural, but my future is here”.
Born in Al Bureij refugee camp in 1976, lives and works in Gaza, and is a founding member of the Group confluence of contemporary art (eltiqa group).
Since 1999 – 2001 participated in summer academy at dar- alfonon(khlid shoman association) supervised by professor marwan qassab bachi my adviser to choose the contemporary art , won first prize at the Key in the course of Academy.
In 1999 established the first personal exhibition at the French Cultural Center in Gaza entitled; new faces;, which was used by the technical fee on certain Microsoft direct the picture represented French Donov Catherine.
In 2000 established Studies at first in the Gaza French Cultural Center and the second in Ramallah, which was first submitted to him within the contest organized by the artist promising AM Qattan Foundation on the draft bones of animals used in bone and dead animals has formulated a new way to read, especially motive for the meanings New away from the idea of death and separation.
Learn more at http://www.eltiqa.com/hawajri/