Probably one of the very few conflicts where art can’t play a role
Considered the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity, Palestine has always been the centre for religion, culture and a long, interesting history. Palestine has been ruled by innumerous foreign powers including the Egyptians, Canaanites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Sunni Arab Caliphates, Shia Fatimid Caliphate, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mameluks, Ottomans and the British. Since ancient times, Palestine was a hub of politics and economics. A region so rich in history and culture started witnessing it’s downfall post the second world war.
After the Second World War, Britain was still in conflict with the Jewish community. The Jewish parliamentary organization in the British Mandate of Palestine had launched an armed struggle against the British. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jews from Europe, all the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust needed to be given refuge, away from their destroyed past in Europe. In mid 1948, after the official end of the British Mandate in Palestine, the Jewish community declared the establishment of the Eretz-Israel or the State of Israel. The borders of the state were justified according to the mythical ‘Notion of Israel’ or the Eretz Yisrael. According to this notion, the current borders of Israel were promised to three Jewish patriarchs by God in pre Biblical times. This land happened to be within the borders of Palestine. Thus Israel was ‘established’ inside the borders of Palestine, making Jerusalem it’s capital. Israel announced itself to be a Jewish nation and was made a part of the United Nations by a majority vote.
After the creation of Israel, millions of Palestinians fled Palestine and settled in countries across the world. This creation of Israel started off a conflict between the state of Israel and the locals of Palestine. This conflict is ongoing till date, without any solution. By and large, Palestinians have been at the receiving end of this conflict. Apart from causing immense loss to human life and property among the Palestinians, the art and culture of Palestine has also received a massive blow as a result of this conflict.
Palestine being a region with the kind of religious importance it holds, it is but obvious that the ancient Palestinian art explored mostly religious themes. This kind of art slowly died, making way for art in the form of landscapes and portraits. A reason for this kind of a transition was the introduction of technology in the form of cameras. Photography made it possible and convenient for photographers to capture the Holy land and sell the photographs to locals and pilgrims.
Palestinian art is not very different from the rest of Arab art. But Palestine being such a prominent country geographically and culturally to the Arab countries makes the art extremely integral.
Art is a reflection of society. The Israel-Palestine conflict has had it’s effect on the modern art of Palestine. Previously, in history, art has always played an extremely important role in bringing about change. Whether it be the use of art to change mindsets or to bring down governments, it has always been the voice of the people.
A major theme in Palestinian art according to Palestinian artist and art historian Kamal Boullata is ‘place’. For a Palestinian artist, his/her attachment to his/her Palestinian home shows through his/her art. Before the creation of Israel, Jerusalem and it’s society were largely the themes of Palestinian art. However in the decades past 1948, nostalgia, memory of a place and distance from homeland began to gain importance as the central theme in the Palestinian arts. This theme was prominent even in the works of those artists born in Palestine but raised in Israel.
Art in current day Palestine is under the danger of being politicized. In spite of this, in the 1980s there was the birth of the nationalist school of art in Palestine, which depicted triumph and tragedy at once. The problem with this school of art not helping the Palestinians much in the conflict were the kind of atrocities the Israeli military brought on to these artists, and more than these artists, the infrastructure of Palestine. Post 1948, Palestinians have been confined to living in four territories with no art schools or colleges. Also there are enough stories of art galleries, museums, cultural centers and art studios being broken down, forced shut down, ransacked, looted and destroyed in Palestine.
Events like these have led to the migration of a lot of Palestinian artists from their homeland. These artists have moved to countries across the world. Artists originally from Palestine now operate using the internet. Innumerable artists take their arts to the people and tell stories of their homelands using their blog sites. A look at the ‘about’ section on their blog tells us about how they are settled either in New York or Paris or Amsterdam among many other countries.
A reason why art will possibly never grow in Palestine today unless the conflict comes to an end is that all the artists based in Palestine operate from different cosmopolitan cities of the world; thus making it almost impossible for a coherent art movement to take place in that region.