Visit Gaza – The bright side of the moon

by M. A.

Have you always dreamt of visiting the heavenly beaches of Gaza?  The question seems surreal no matter how you look at it.  Words like visit, beach, heavenly and even dream stand out in absolute dissonance with the unavoidable overtones of this coastal city’s name.  Gaza is, in fact, closer to Cairo than Sharm El-Sheikh.  Despite this fact, Gaza’s name has never once appeared on the destination lists in the travel agencies at Talaat Harb; neither did it ever promise real proximity for the many Gazans in the outskirts of Cairo, whose relatives remain indefinitely besieged.

In truth there are virtually no images of Gaza beyond the usual piles of rubble, bomb shells and poverty.  The city’s memory and the BBC archives are one and the same in this respect.  The artist, first and foremost a resident, lives amongst the recollections of two generations immersed in two Intifadas, a democratic exercise that brought Hamas into power, and an internationally-condemned aggression.  How can their imagery, vocabulary and notions avoid being shoehorned at some moment into a humanitarian or political agenda? Where does the artist locate the luxuries of urban nostalgia? Imagine the equivalent – a young Egyptian artist locked in an imposed picture frame of a city covered with sand where everybody rides camels.  And if there were emancipation, would the world allow it?

But why emancipate? Are emancipation and escape synonymous? Was Kalīla wa Dimma an escape from current political reality, or an analytical commentary? Perhaps it is necessary to move on from the notion of the Palestinian artist as ‘an artist with a cause’, and accept the fact that, like any other artist, the Palestinians are able to decide for themselves how – and if – they engage with it.

Emile Habibi once wrote “I am one of those who sees only the bright side of the moon”.  It is perhaps that particularly blessed perspective of the universe that he shares with the Palestinians in Gaza (cultural siege in 48 lands/ economic siege in Gaza).

When encompassed by bitter reality, cynicism might be the only escape.

This text was created in the context of Visit Gaza, a multi-disciplinary exhibition created in May 2010 by Culture Resource as part of Spring Festival.

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