An Encounter in Gaza Discusses the Work "Jamal al-Mahamel" by Sliman Mansour
Gaza – (A.M. Qattan Foundation – 28 January 2019):
As part of the VAFF project (Visual Arts: A Flourishing Field), the A.M. Qattan Foundation (AMQF) organised an encounter in Gaza on the Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour’s painting Jamal al-Mahamel. This encounter was hosted by Shababeek for Contemporary art in Gaza on Saturday, 26 January 2019. Nine artists and art enthusiasts from the Gaza Strip took part in this event: Do’a Qishta, Yusri al-Ghoul, Mohammed al-Haj, Nabil Abu Ghanimeh, Majdal Nateel, Salman Nawati, Maysara Baroud, Sohail Salem and Suheir Joudeh, in addition to the artist and guest speaker Khaled Hourani who joined via Skype from Ramallah.
The encounter, which was led by the artist Ala’ Younis, discussed a new literary work by Hourani entitled “Oil on Canvas: The story of the search for Jamal al-Mahamel”, and the importance this work of Mansour’s has acquired as part of an artistic movement and practices documenting political, artistic and economic developments and events, both in the Palestinian scene and outside.
This meeting was the fourth organised by the VAFF project as part of its interventions that aim to further develop the knowledge, tools and skills of artists and researchers in the Gaza Strip. The programme began in December 2018 and continues with fortnightly meetings until April 2019.
Hourani said: “Oil on Canvas investigates the Palestinian fine art scene since the 1970s, including the challenges those artists experienced, and the conditions of their work and artistic production through the tales and stories the research recounts about the trajectory of this iconic painting.”
The participants made their own contributions to the encounter, describing their experiences with Jamal al-Mahamel and other artistic works that had influenced their developments as artists and researchers in the early stages of their life and work.
Salman Nawati said: “The painting Jamal el-Mahamel can be found everywhere. I remember when I drew it for the first time in my second year of university, to sell to a member of the Kuhail family in Gaza for 400 shekels.”
Maysara Baroud also commented: “In Gaza during the First Intifada, we were really focussed on national issues, so the paintings by Sliman Mansour, and those by Issam Bader, were well known and widely circulated. We would get hold of them as posters in the cultural centres of Gaza and would spend time copying these works.”
Do’a Qishta said: “I saw Jamal el-Mahamel after I became acquainted with the artist Somaya el-Aqra’, as she had painted a picture of an old lady carrying her clothes who was fleeing her house as it became subsumed by the rains. Her painting was inspired by Jamal el-Mahamel, so I went and searched for the painting on the internet. That was how I first came across it.”
With regard to the objective of the meetings, Ala’ Younis said: “Our aim is to widen discussion about the ways that artistic production works, among other topics, and how it progresses in times of war, along with the development of new technologies and the dependence of artistic production on funding.” She clarified that: “For every meeting, the group prepares by reading a text or watching a film that has been suggested, and this is followed with discussion on the themes that are dealt with in the text or the film, by tying them to local artistic practices.”
Younis also added: “The discussion produces a wide spectrum of perspectives; it helps us to understand the cultural and artistic scene, and to imagine what kind of work can be developed in it. We also look at films and texts circulating in the contemporary art world, and discuss and analyse them in relation to the views of the participants and their practices, on the one hand, and with the art scene in Gaza on the other, in terms of its formation and limitations.”
The first meeting invited the Egyptian writer and film producer Ali Hussein al-Adawi from Alexandria to analyse the film Inextinguishable Fire (1969) by the Egyptian director Harun Farocki. Al-Adawi discussed the film as a turning point in the production of films that are politically committed, or that deal with causes or choose an unusual path in the general context of producing films with a message.
The participants discussed the ways in which the film employed the violent imagery of war, and the relationship that arms companies had with constructing this picture, as well as the position of the artists and directors in these production processes.
The second meeting hosted the Jordanian/Palestinian artist Raed Ibrahim, and covered discussions of the position of artists writing texts and receiving funds, and their awareness of their position in the divisions of cultural labour. This was discussed through the reading of a text by the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (that had been translated into Arabic), and through watching a screening of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film The Paper Flower Sequence (1969).
The third meeting was held with the Palestinian writer and researcher Adania Shabli, in which the group discussed “Clues: Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes” from the works of Carlo Ginzburg (translated by Arij Batta). This text touches upon the way that people see the world, how knowledge is changed by being marginalised, and how small details can be reread to redefine narratives, artworks, or history as a whole. Shibli also presented European artworks that demonstrated transformations in how we deal with the different elements of a painting.
These meetings create a space for the participants to present their ideas and research, and a chance to critique and progress. As one of the artists, Nabil Abu Ghanimeh, said: “I had many queries that I found I had the space to pursue and get feedback about.”
One of the other participating artists, Majdal Nateel, noted that: “The materials that we discussed strengthened the means by which one can critique, especially given the absence of critique that has impacted on art production here lately.”
VAFF Project Manager, Yara Odeh, stated: “This thematic intervention was designed to further explore a wider range of artistic productions and practices with the artists in Gaza and to break the isolation of artists working in the scene, in light of the intense wave of artistic productions that Gaza is witnessing”. She also added: “this intervention is part of a series of needs-based interventions that VAFF has been implementing on different themes and topics, such as audience building, preserving and archiving artworks, and sustainability and financial planning, etc.”