Fire, Art and Palestine

treeI, a practicing artist of twenty years and someone who has deliberately avoided the news, where ever possible, for many years, have suddenly re-remembered what art can do and why it’s so important. In fact I have been plunged into an art environment that faces up to and questions many of the problems and conflicts in the wider world and at home.

I have shunned the mainstream media’s portrayal of world events, for many years, because I feel they bring me down and distress me to the point, that I numb myself of any feeling and want to hide away because I have no idea what to do about any of it. But I am periodically reminded, that art can be a far more effective and powerful communication tool.

I recently lost my home to a fire which destroyed the hand-made, off-grid house my family and I had built over the last ten years and all our collected and inherited belongings. Though my recent paintings and art materials survived in a remote studio, all my old paintings, some twenty or more sketchbooks, all my poetry and song books, my guitars, my music recording equipment, many finished and un-finished projects in various media, thousands of books and countless other things were lost. Not surprisingly, since then, I have felt quite disconnected from art and really quite lost and in need of direction. This was when (four months after the fire) I had a project idea suggested to me, by Deveron Project’s Claudia Zeiske.

The project involves working alongside a female Palestinian artist, a painter, from The Gaza Strip, who cannot leave her country. We have begun communication digitally and I have already begun to learn more about the Palestinian situation from this personal contact, than I ever have or could from the news. Soon after this dialogue began, I went to a Skype talk by another female Palestinian artist and curator named Vera Tamari. (This was one of a series of talks organised by DP, by artists, who cannot come to Scotland in person). The themes in her work; woman and nature, loss, family history and memory and her activism through art, resonated deeply with me and felt particularly pertinent. Though it was also a reminder of how small-scale my loss is compared to that of the Palestinian people and despite our political complaints here in Scotland how comparatively safe and free we are.

Vera talked about an art piece that was a response to the destruction of around a million olive trees in Palestine. And how each tree uprooted was a loss of livelihood for a whole family and how the farmers deeply mourned each one as they would a child.

While under curfew, she sneaked out to her workshop, over many nights and made little clay trees, each one a memorial to a lost tree. She talked about how the occupation of the land and the conflict was severing people’s connection with it, sometimes physically, for example, farmers being separated from their land by a wall.  I felt the huge sadness of this for the Palestinians and it reminded me that, hearing stories, particularly personal ones, can give so much more insight than the news and are so much more likely to encourage understanding and empathy for that person and their situation. And I am so glad to have been given the opportunity to be funded for a project which will enable me to hear the stories of someone from such a different culture and political climate and yet who is a woman and a painter like me and lives in an environment which, superficially has a lot in common with mine; (restricted electricity and water, rubble and debris of destroyed buildings).  And I am very grateful that despite the loss of our buildings, we didn’t lose our land, or our connection to it, nor the thousands of trees we planted. It’s still our home.

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