RAMALLAH, Apr. 6 (JMCC) - Gazans frequently tell a popular story from the first intifada
: An old sheikh is going on his daily walk to the mosque, when he sees some graffiti on a wall. He stops to look at it, and is so incensed by a grammatical error that he takes up a spray can and corrects it himself. While he is putting the finishing touches on his alteration, he is shot dead by the Israeli military, which takes him to be a rebel.
Mia Grondahl, a veteran Swedish photojournalist, has spent the last seven years documenting the care and precision that this story pokes fun at.
Grondahl has devoted her time in the region to photographing what she calls propaganda, but with a strong artistic element, the fruits of which she is currently presenting to the world in her touring exhibition, “Graffiti in Gaza
Everyone in the early nineties said that the graffiti would go away once Gaza got its own newspapers and radio,” she explains. “But it didn’t go away. People really needed to make that very physical statement on the wall. Then when the second intifada
began, the graffiti got stronger, and started voicing some very critical views on Fateh
A FREE ART
Grondahl began to document, ask questions, and try to understand why it was that graffiti in Gaza just wasn't going away.
Firstly, it's free, she begins, so anyone can do it. More importantly, it is a way for the parties to tell their people: ‘We are here for you, we are among you, we are walking these very streets.’
Grafitti became a tool for Hamas
to harness the disaffection felt for Fateh's ineffectualness, portraying itself as the true people's party.
The graffiti Grondahl has captured is colorful and vibrant. Curling and twisting Arabic script adorns whole walls, transfixing the eye, and commanding those who pass to stop and admire it.
Stern faces etched onto crumbling walls, sometimes holding a gun of some sort, are common. These are the “martyrs” of Gazan society, interpreted in the West as Palestinian heroes.
Grondahl shakes her head. “If I understood right, the family is actually telling the neighborhood: ‘we have sacrificed a son and contributed to our liberation, now don’t ask for anything more’. They are proud of it, you might be right about that, but it’s really about familial sacrifice.”
A HUMAN PORTRAIT
Among the scores of photos, something else captures my eye: a three-part piece depicting captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The first section shows him imprisoned, his army uniform on, and the year “2006” written on an epaulet. The second part shows him in the same place, still imprisoned, looking tired and weary, but otherwise the same, now with the year “2036.” The third section, is a picture of a Palestinian man, with long bedraggled hair covering most of his face, clinging to the bars of his cell, with the words, ‘I miss my children’ written in English in a thought bubble above his head.
“But look at that painting,” Grondahl pauses, speaking of Shalit. “He is a human being. He has not been demonized, that is the amazing thing. I point it out to everybody. The stereotype in that picture is the Palestinian. There is nothing anti-Semitic, nothing demonizing a Jew or an Israeli, only an accurate human portrait.”
The frame of the series is made up of Gazan children tussling in dirty grey streets, weathered looking men sitting on plastic chairs and sharing a coffee, and piles of concrete rubble where once a wall would have been – ellipses at the end of an unfinished sentence.
“It’s a crime against humanity what is going on here,” says Grondahl, “but I want people to see that there is still a lot of creativity. This is what culture is about. We can express anything we want when we write and draw -- all of our ugly dreams and wishes. I think that should be promoted and applauded.”
She sighs and turns back to the smiling children’s faces peering out at her from the photos. “This is non-violent action, and I would like to see much more of that.”
For more information on where the exhibition will be search ‘Gaza Graffiti’ on Facebook.