By Julie Holm
Anyone walking in the streets of Ramallah, Bethlehem or Hebron lately might have noticed that some of the bare walls of the cities are no longer boring and grey. Last week one of the most famous Danish street artists HuskMitNavn (RememberMyName) visited Palestine and decorated its walls together with young Palestinian artists. I watched, from the cool shades on the other side of the street as one of HuskMitNavn’s pieces came into being. It started out as what looked mostly like a blue splash of paint but ended up being two people on rollerblades and skateboard, with a message to keep moving.
Palestinians are not unfamiliar with street art. The wall cutting through the West Bank carries appeals for freedom and messages of solidarity from around the world. Internationally renowned street artists like Banksy, Blu and many others have called for the freedom of Palestine through their art on the wall that is the very symbol of Israel’s apartheid regime.
The artists HuskMitNavn met in Palestine were young and still trying to find their language as graffiti artists. Something that made an impression on him was how absolutely every piece that prides the walls of Palestine has a political message. He hopes that he, in interacting with the young Palestinian artists could inspire them to develop this message through their art and plant the seeds to a wider use of the visual arts. In his own words he tried to give them more letters in the alphabet to work with.
Before HuskMitNavn travelled to the West Bank, he did not know a lot about the occupation and oppression going on here. His pieces portray many of the stereotypical roles we imagine Palestinians to have: In Hebron he painted a yellow flying carpet carrying a man with a large, black, mustache and a steering wheel in his hands – a taxi driver. A Palestinian artist HuskMitNavn worked with in Hebron wrote ‘iftah tariq’ – “open the road’ or ‘give way’ around the painting. Just like that, the taxi driver became a political symbol, calling to remove the checkpoints and open the Israeli-controlled roads for everyone to use.
In the still growing Palestinian street art culture a new generation is taking over. They try to push the messages further than just ‘Free Palestine’ because, as one of the artists in HuskMitNavn’s project says; “no one disagrees with that here”. They challenge the Palestinian society from within and take up taboos such as gender, religion and corruption. Further, they try to reach out and communicate directly with people in their everyday life, therefore they paint on the walls in the city and they stay away from the political figures that usually are the preferred motifs.
Street art has the potential of reaching everyone who passes it. Upon till now, the most popular message has been the one most important to every Palestinian; that of freedom, but there are many other aspects that need to be addressed for Palestine to be free. The social and political conditions inside Palestine needs to be put into question which could be achieved by the new generation of Palestinian street artists if they manage to go beyond the clichés. Lately Palestinian street art has transcended this message and takes on issues surrounding the call for a free Palestine. The pieces decorating the walls of Palestine now remind its people of the importance of their existence, to keep moving and not to give up.
Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected]
About the author: MIFTAH
Established in Jerusalem in December 1998, with Hanan Ashrawi as its Secretary-General, MIFTAH seeks to promote the principles of democracy and good governance within various components of Palestinian society; it further seeks to engage local and international public opinion and official circles on the Palestinian cause.
To that end, MIFTAH adopts the mechanisms of an active and in-depth dialogue, the free flow of information and ideas, as well as local and international networking.