Saturday, October 9, 2010

RIGO 23 - Part III (Prisons and Sunflowers)

I met with the students in the International Art Academy over the course of several days. They kind of split into two groups: the ones who could get to Jerusalem and the ones who couldn’t. There were a group of about 6 students and I asked each one to make a contribution or bring a concept into the mural. I told them I was doing something like a tile design because of the factory and they were into that idea.

They were all kind of shy at first but when I said I was going to paint the wall one student, Azma, said ‘Don’t paint the wall!!!' She couldn’t understand why I was going to paint something so ugly. That helped to cement the notion that I should paint it because it can be invisible to visitors. So many tours come to Jerusalem to see the remnants of the holy but meanwhile they miss the incredibly unholy present.

Azma also said that she liked sunflowers. In Arabic the name of this flower means something like ‘slave of the sun’. So this started the whole idea of painting the wall not in terms of how it is a block to people moving but how it blocks out the sun which makes it anti-life in the most basic sense.

Maher said that there should be a symbol of Ramallah and suggested the lighthouse - a thing that is a beacon and shows the way. He also talked about a window so this contributed to the idea of the smaller section of the mural which shows the city of Jerusalem from the perspective of someone who cannot see it.

Two of the students, Razan and Hiba, came to Jerusalem. Hiba can travel and had been to San Francisco where I live now. When I asked her what she thought she said ‘It’s your project, you should stick to your concept. We are just students!’ This actually contributed to making me feel more comfortable making the decisions on my own.

Munzeh, who cannot leave Ramallah became very emotional about the situation. So I feel that this section of the mural that shows Jerusalem is for him. I asked him to do a design for the frame of the mural which he did. He drew it and cut it out of card and I carried it back to Jerusalem with me through the checkpoint.

Maher took me around Ramallah and he invited me to come to the place where he stays. He is from Hebron but lives in Ramallah during the week for school and only goes home on Fridays. He lives with his brothers and one of his brother’s sons. We spent all day in his small place above a shop. His younger brother had just come out of prison and Maher himself was in prison for four years during the first intifada. I stayed in the house until midnight. His brother cooked and we all shared a meal. This was really a very special night. While I was there people were coming in an out all day to visit. There were many different men and all of them had been in prison at some point.

Maher’s brother is an artist too. He made many drawings while he was in prison but when he left the Israeli guards confiscated them all and would not let him take them. So I commissioned him t o do me a drawing. He will send it to me and write something about his experiences and I will include it in my next project in the US in November. This is an exhibition of paintings by Native American Leonard Peltier who has been wrongfully imprisoned in the US since 1976. He is an artist and he sells his paintings to  finance his defence committee.

When I got the invitation to Jerusalem I was at the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota preparing for this show. As I read the description of Exhaustion from the Palestinian perspective it fitted like a glove. It seems right that this relationship should continue, and that I should include this work from a former Palestinian prisoner. So the project goes now back and forth to Ramallah and the United States.

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