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Mazen Saadeh

Writing and Public Art

Mazen Saadeh admits that he felt depressed in 2000 after writing his second novel, The Scent of Sleep, believing that he was finished as a writer, that the well of his life experience was empty, and that he had no more to say. To overcome this, he occupied himself with travel and small projects. For four years, he wandered Europe. Sleeping on trains at night, he discovered the streets of beautiful cities during the day, contemplating their extraordinary public art. When the prize money for his film script Rukab Street ran out, he returned to Ramallah with the vision of filling its streets with art, inspired by what he had seen abroad. He allowed himself to be swept away by the medium of clay, turning the upper floor of his house into a busy clay sculpture workshop to avert an otherwise looming existential crisis.

After Mazen’s studies in law at Jordan University had been cut short by his arrest and imprisonment for political activism (1978 to 1988), he spent the following decade and a half writing for various media, engaging in theater (Ashtar, Palestinian National Theatre El-Hakawati, Al-Kasaba Theatre), and writing scripts for ten documentaries and short films (including Behind Closed Doors, The Half Absent, and Baghdad One Way), five plays, and three novels (Oaks, The Scent of Sleep, and Phases of Seduction). His latest novel, The Artist Savo, is due to be released later this year.

Aware that art has a sublime function in people’s lives that reaches well beyond mere aesthetic expression, Mazen has always been intrigued by the commonalities between its various expressions, particularly cinema, theater, and novel writing. Drawn to art in all forms, he decided in 1992 to make it his primary focus and retired from political activity. He devoted himself to art as a tool to uplift society and move it out of closed rooms onto the streets for all to enjoy.

Mazen was not the first Palestinian to focus on street art. Other artists and sculptors, such as Issam Bader and Jamal Afghani, have preceded him. Mazen’s works currently on display include Mural of Freedom (Ramallah old city) and Mural of Creative Women (Irsal Street), the latter a joint work to which ten young artists contributed. The mural The Horse Fell Off the Poem (based on Mahmoud Darwish’s poem of the same name) is located half a meter above street level next to the pedestrian sidewalk that surrounds Mahmoud Darwish Square, standing steadfast. Glad that most of his works are displayed close to the average person passing by, Mazen notes that even though perhaps hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank attend artistic events, he can reach anyone and everyone through street art. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a new sculpture titled Gratitude that will take its place on Ramallah’s Rukab Street to express appreciation for the city cleaners who work hard to make the city of Ramallah more beautiful.

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