A taste of colours and contradictions
For about 15 years there has been a cultural exchange and friendship between Hemelingen (a part of Bremen) and the Arab town Tamra in Israel, 25 kilometres from Haifa. This project is an addition to the original twinning of Bremen and Haifa.
One year a group from Bremen visits Tamra, the other year people from Tamra come to Bremen. On the principle that “my home is your home” it is always a visit in the families, so that personal connections and friendships can develop.
This year our journey took place from March 19th to April 2nd.
Edeltraut and I had asked our hosts to arrange meetings with Arab artists.
We – that was a delegation of 17 people from Bremen – visited Tamra, an Arab town near Haifa. The hospitality in the families was overwhelming, and so was the programme they had prepared for us : visiting local institutions like waste disposal site, schools and old people’s homes; a drive along a countryside full of mines to some Druse villages on the Golan Heights; a reception in the Muskata, the office of autonomy in Ramallah, Westbank,
- driving through town with a military escort; a stroll through the Oriental bazaar in Jerusalem and a visit to the nearby refugee camp Shu’fat, that is cordoned off by the army; swimming in the Dead Sea and finally an Arab wedding with 1200 guests.
It was the Arab side of Israel that we got to know during our visit. Our hosts were Palestinians with Israeli passports. But they are second-class citizens in Israel. They must for example have a good command of two languages in their daily routine, because the official language is Hebrew. Jewish Israelis rarely learn the Arabic language. School books don’t mention the history and culture of the Palestinians, especially not the expulsion of the Arabs in 1948. Since Arabs have no access to quite a number of jobs, their unemployment rate is exceptionally high. Although the population figures of the Arabs in Israel grow more rapidly than those of the Jews, they seldom get building plotsplanning permissions. So they are forced to gain the urgently needed living space by adding a story to their parents’ housesby building new houses in still available gardens – illegally and always in fear of the demolition ball.
In this country art is inevitably political
One of the most outstanding Palestinian artists is the painter and sculptor Ahmad Canaan. His sculptures are landmarks at many places in Israel and Palestine. His vita includes exhibitions in Europe, the USA and Asia. In Tamra Ahmad Canaan and some friends run a private art gallery, well frequented by the population. He initiated a symposium for setting up sculptures along the main road into Tamra. And in his big studio and the adjoining sculpture park he often works with children. The Palestinians place their hopes in their children, so their education is of top priority.
Canaan’s sculptures and pictures tell stories
The beddings under trees in a field were painted exactly as the artist had one day found them on his land near Tamra. They are the sleeping quarters of Palestinian workers from the Westbank, who get entry permits into Israel for one day only and come to find work there as day labourers. Out of sheer spite the procedure at the checkpoints takes so much time that they would be late for job-hunting in the morning, and in the evening it’s too late to get back home. That’s why they camp in the fields, an illegal act, because they have gone over the time limit of their visas. They take the risk, because in the Westbank itself there is hardly any chance to find work.
The refugee with his bundle and oil-can turns up in many variations.
In some pictures this figure is ornamentally composed of countless small, identical figures. The ornament as such is deeply rooted in the Islamic culture. But here there is a further message: It is the individual who goes through expulsion, isolation, insecurity – and yet they are all companions in distress.
The remembrance of the Naqba, the expulsion of the Palestinians from their territory in 1948, is kept alive everywhere. Some older people told us how as children they had seen their houses and gardens being flattened.
Bitterness and homesickness.
Another central subject in Canaan’s work is the knight. He is associated with by-gone times when the Arabs were still proudly mounted on horseback, also with Mohammed’s ascension on horseback and with the organic unity of horse and rider. The knight stands for the ardent desire for a charismatic leader who can bring about the change for a better life. This figure, too, is often designed in combination with ornaments. The larger-than-life knight in Tamra e.g. is composed of one thousand small metal riders.
In his mural paintings Canaan works with stencil-plates of riders, with their reverse prints and their shadows.
The works of Canaan are important components in this torn country.
Detailed information about this exciting artist under: www.ahmadcanaan.com
Anne Baisch, English translation by Ulrike Steffen