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If Graffiti Changed Anything, It Would Be Illegal

By Ursula Mindermann

The British graffiti artist Banksy makes this claim, as he has been spraying graffiti on walls in the West Bank and Gaza since 2005. In 2007, he founded Santa’s Ghetto and brought numerous international artists to Bethlehem, the city known as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Ever since, the Separation Wall near the checkpoint that leads to Jerusalem has become a hotspot for the graffiti scene. This “Graffiti Mile” is now the second most visited tourist attraction. This wall, as it represents violence and occupation, has become a work of art.

Graffiti art in Bethlehem is both politically and culturally important: many works of art are inspired by Palestinian culture and history and, despite their short-lived nature, contribute to preserving the city’s cultural heritage.

As (graffiti) art can criticize and shake things up, it is an important tool to educate people about Palestine and the occupation.

Starting in 2005, international artists such as Lushsux, Jorit Agoch, Blu, Sam3, Ron English, Swoon, Faile, Schoon-Tanis, Eric Calcaine, and How&Nosm have sprayed the infamous wall with their works of art, some of which have survived to this day. Moreover, the wall offers local artists such as Taqi Spateen and Cakes Stencils the opportunity to present their art to an international audience. These artists reflect the brutality of the occupation in their art: Cakes Stencils uses the stencil technique and, above all, depicts the situation and reality of life of Palestinian children. Barbed wire recurs as a constant motif in the pictures. An example is the graffiti “I was born at Qalandia checkpoint.” It highlights the experience of Palestinian mothers, some of whom were forced to give birth to their children at the checkpoint near Ramallah when they could not reach the maternity clinic in time due to arbitrary restrictions and excessive controls.

Taqi Spateen compares the Palestinians to Alice in Wonderland, both of whom lost their greatness (figuratively: dignity) in order to achieve freedom. Images of various Palestinian personalities – such as the nurse Razan al-Najjar, who was murdered by Israeli snipers while tending to the wounded at the Great March of Return protests in Gaza, and the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was murdered while on duty in Jenin – are artistically depicted on the Separation Wall.

Today, the wall has become a work of art: tourists from all over the world come to the Graffiti Mile and can find out about the graffiti’s background. These images reveal glimpses into everyday life and show the brutal reality of the occupied country. It caused quite a stir when Banksy’s artwork Love in a Bin was shredded immediately after its auction at London’s Sotheby’s auction house, and the incident was reported in media worldwide. Banksy was certainly the door opener for Bethlehem’s graffiti art that is now reaching the outside world. Exhibitions about Banksy can be visited in many major cities. Taqi Spateen also exhibits his art in Europe.

You learn a lot through pictures. These graffiti images make the reality of life in Palestine accessible to many people. It is not transitory art; it is understood everywhere, and the impressions remain. Visitors go home touched, informed, and sometimes even disturbed.

In his graffiti titled The Boy with the Goldfish Bowl, Taqi Spateen shows a child with what is left after the destruction of his childhood home: the bowl with the goldfish. Images like these aim to highlight and confront viewers with the injustice that occurs on an ongoing basis.

For more information, please visit Mindermann Photography, Bethlehem, available at http://www.um-photo.art/palestine/bethlehem/, and “Shop Behind the Wall,” available at https://shopbehindthewall.com/.

Article photos are courtesy of the author.  

  • The German photographer Ursula Mindermann, together with a Palestinian from Bethlehem, runs a shop close to the Graffiti Mile. In her exhibition Graffiti Art in Bethlehem, Ursula has shown the works of international and local artists at various locations in Germany. The presented artworks have opened the eyes of visitors who are interested in art and politics.

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