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Let it Light!

Promoting Young Palestinian Artists

Interviews with

Noor Jabareen,
Yazan Abusalamah,
Salah Frookh,
and Ahmed Yasin

     

The visual arts contest Let it Light! organized by the New Urban Resources (NUR) Italian-Palestinian cooperation project aims to raise awareness about renewable energy through the language of contemporary art. We interviewed young Palestinian artists who won the contest to find out more about them and their art.

Yazan Abusalamah (center) shows an image of Handala during the workshop he led at Paratissima 2019.

Noor Jabareen was born in 1990 and resides in Umm al-Fahem, Palestinian-Arab majority area in the State of Israel. She was recognized for the work One Man’s Leftovers Are Another Man’s Treasures. Noor was due to travel to Turin to take part in the Contemporary Art Week 2019, but due to her pregnancy, she decided not to travel. Her work was still exhibited at the 15th edition of Paratissima.

Q: Noor, the work you entered in the Let it Light! competition shows a window, a chair, and some plants. What do they represent?

A: That painting took me a year to complete. This was not a coincidence: it was my intention to work through all four seasons. Each (season) had a different effect on me, and my feelings are reflected in my work. The painting, which is a concentration of sentiment and dreams, shows the house I live in. I collected different types of plants to liven up the space and make it more livable. The chair, coffee table, carpet, and lamp are all objects that I found in the trash – I could not walk past them without taking them in. The chair has a strong connection to humans, who have to choose between stability and weakness. When I was working on the painting, a certain saying kept popping up in my mind: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That is what inspired the title of the work.

Q: What does being a Palestinian artist mean?

A: For me, it means providing an image of my real life, or how I wish my life was. A combination of dreams and reality; happiness and pain. Being a Palestinian artist is like having a tiny missile and fearlessly launching it.

Q: What does art represent for you? Are you going to continue working in this field?

A: I graduated in fine arts from Al-Najah University in Nablus and took part in various exhibitions in Israel and the West Bank. Now, I teach art in a middle school in my hometown. I would say that art is something we can’t live without. We will always need a source of solace, and that is often art. Creativity is the space where artifice happens. Being an artist requires a special ability to see things differently, because art is never born in stable conditions. That is why artists have to engage with an endless variety of themes.

One Man’s Leftovers Are Another Man’s Treasures, Noor Jabareen’s painting on display at Paratissima 2019 (oil on canvas).

Yazan Abusalamah was born in 1993 and resides in Beit Sahour, close to Bethlehem. He came in third place in the Let it Light! competition thanks to an ink-on-paper painting sold to a British buyer for US$700.

Q: Yazan, your work is called The Cycle. What did you want to represent?

A: I combined different elements connected to renewable energy. First, a turnstile, an instrument used by the Israeli occupation forces for security purposes (to restrict movement). It could be used differently: its continuous rotation could be a good way of generating energy! In the picture, you can see some Palestinians going through the turnstile, leaving one zone and passing those entering the zone, thereby generating renewable energy and water.

Then I depicted land and the olive tree, intangible energy resources by virtue of their renewable nature. These elements are closely bound to the identity and history of this land and are strongly connected to one another. Then the pendulum moved by dynamic energy thanks to a mechanism that generates rotating energy. A kneeling human figure is examining an example of nonrenewable energy (an engine). The kneeling position symbolizes our enslavement to the capitalist system, which prefers this kind of energy. There is also a kite, a childhood memory: a simple toy that uses the wind for fun, or to venture into the infinite. There are forms of energy everywhere. I see them as vertical, horizontal, and circular lines linked to places, reflecting humans, and taking on different forms. They are not just water, wind, or light alone, but interconnected forces that represent hope, love, life, and progress. It is our job to see that they circulate, to offer a source of light in every sense.

Q: At Paratissima 2019 you held a children’s workshop inspired by Handala, a character created by the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali. Why did you choose this theme?

A: Because Handala is a child. Naji Al-Ali always draws him from behind; his thin hair is reminiscent of a hedgehog, using its spines as weapons. Handala is not chubby, happy, carefree, or spoiled. He is barefoot, like a kid in a refugee camp. His hands are clasped behind his back as a sign of his rejection of the solution represented by the American way of life.

To prepare the workshop, I went to a market in Turin one morning. At a stall, I bought a couple of editions from an old collection of monographs about painters from the past. I was drawn to nineteenth-century paintings, which I used as a background during the workshop. The children who attended had to draw many little Handalas set among horses, castles, and lawns, and they too found the effect very amusing.

Salah Frookh’s work inspired by the COVID-19 virus.

Salah Frookh was born in 1994 and resides in Ramallah. He presented an oil painting on canvas.

Q: Salah, at the Let it Light! competition your work got a special mention. How did you find out about the project?

A: I was in touch with Wisam Salsaa, director of The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, and he suggested I participate. The Walled Off is much more than just a hotel. It is a building that speaks of the history of Palestine and gives us a voice to speak to the world through art, that of Banksy and Palestinian painters exhibited in the first floor gallery. The building also has a museum, where visitors can gain insight into everyday life in occupied Palestine.

Q: Your work is called Feeling the Light. What did you set out to communicate?

A: The painting shows two types of hands. The first, lit up, represent the hands of the sun, the eternal engine that drives our daily lives. It is available to all completely free. The others, which are dark, represent people’s hands. The hands of the sun are holding the human hands, forging a connection between the atoms of the galaxy and the atoms on earth. In addition to the fundamental role that the sun plays in the solar system, its light, heat, and energy are essential for our survival. We rely on the sun more than we can imagine. It is absolutely vital to our economic growth and the continuation of our civilization.

Q: I know that there are many art galleries in your town. What does living in Ramallah today mean for a young person?

Art is a tool to raise awareness. Let it Light! aimed to promote the work of Palestinian artists and at the same time raise awareness on such important issues as the protection of the environment and saving energy. The winners of the competition talk about their work and experience at Paratissima, the famous art fair that takes place every year in Turin.

A: For me, it’s a blessing. I have always had the support of my teachers, who still encourage me to take part in competitions. I managed to create a network of connections with other artists and gallery directors in Ramallah. I also learned to communicate with customers and visitors and to express myself and promote my art. What makes Palestine special is the way it enriches my imagination. It provides freedom of thought despite the difficult social situation in the country.

Q: Did you visit Italy prior to the Paratissima Art Fair? What do you remember about Turin?

A: I did not, but of course I had heard of it because of its renowned art, architecture, and natural beauty. In Turin, I especially liked the museums and the statues in the middle of the squares. At Paratissima there were people from all over the world, all with the same love for culture. I would say that in the West there are a lot of people who love art and want to see artists and their work in person. It happens less here and that is a pity because art is an opportunity for self-awareness, and it can broaden people’s worldview. Therefore, during the pandemic, I painted a special picture and dedicated it to all the Italians.

Yazan Abusalamah (center) shows an image of Handala during the workshop he led at Paratissima 2019.

Ahmed Yasin was born in 1995 and resides in Nablus. He graduated from Al-Najah University (like Noor Jabareen). He currently teaches in the Fine Arts Faculty there. He won the competition with the painting It will light, which sold for €1,750 during Paratissima 2019.

Q: Could you describe your painting?

A: It shows some cactus leaves on top of an old Israeli-brand radiator. The leaves represent the patience and resistance of Palestinians and their continuous attempts to find new sources of renewable energy, thus challenging the Israeli hegemony and monopoly over energy sources of any kind. The cactus has recently been used as a renewable energy source in some arid areas of the world.

Q: That’s right: Opuntia Ficus Indica produces large amounts of biomass that can be used to make bioethanol, biodiesel, and biomethane. Therefore, you are familiar with the latest innovations in the field of renewables.

A: I’m just curious, and I had the opportunity to take part in various exhibitions around the world. In 2017, for example, my work was exhibited in Palermo, while in 2018 I took part in a workshop in Mexico City on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. I was in Tunisia, too… yes, I would say I’m very lucky.

Q: Cactus leaves are your signature motif. Are you solely a painter?

A: No, I use a whole range of different media: sculpture, installations, theatrical performances, drawings, comics, photography, video, computer graphics, and of course paintings. I also love Arabic calligraphy.


Interviews were gathered by Gianpiero Toso, an official of the International Cooperation and Peace Office of the City of Turin, who can be reached at gianpiero.toso@comune.torino.it.

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