British photographer Rich Wiles, who had an exhibition about Palestine in Sydney earlier this year, writes for the BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights on the use of art to resist occupation:
In the summer of 2008, Shira’a Center in Dheisheh Camp hosted one of its annual summer camps. In common with most summer camps within Palestine’s camps, Shira’a’s programs combine recreational activities with programs aimed at strengthening the participants’ understanding of their rights.
Ayed Arafah is a young artist from Dheisheh whose practice reflects his identity. That is not to say that Arafah’s work is in anyway stuck in the past. In fact, far from it: his art represents progression and a contemporary vision without losing track of its roots and origins. Many of his public murals can be seen around Dheisheh and Bethlehem’s others camps but also in the city itself. During Shira’a’s summer camp Arafah worked with forty of Dheisheh’s youth, aged between 11-15 years old, to create new public murals around the camp. The murals often seen in the streets of refugee camps are laced with traditional patriotic symbolism – keys, maps of Palestine, tents, Handala, and other symbols of a similar ilk. Some of Arafah’s work follows these routes and he says that often organizers of these collaborative youth projects specifically request such images:
“People ask for keys, tents, Handala, the same politics and symbols. For me it’s important to keep Handala alive but we must also learn to work with him in new ways. If Handala is overused then he becomes nothing. We are trying to build skills in young people and create the space for them to think about politics in a new way.”