Palestinian creatives on whether art has a role to play in times of war

Palestinian creatives on whether art has a role to play in times of war
Palestinian artist Hazem Harb pictured in front of one of his works created in November for his 'Dystopia Is Not A Noun' series. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 January 2024

Palestinian creatives on whether art has a role to play in times of war

Palestinian creatives on whether art has a role to play in times of war
  • As Israel’s assault on Gaza enters its fourth month, Palestinian artists discuss the impact it has had on their work, and the role the arts can play in times of war 

DUBAI: In times of war — when people are dying by the thousands and hospitals and schools are bombed, as they are in Gaza at this moment — it’s easy to wonder if the arts have any real relevance or role to play. In the face of such pain and destruction, art of any kind can be seen as a luxury enjoyed only by those fortunate enough to live outside of the violence. But history shows us that some of the world’s greatest artists have produced their most potent creations in the midst of horrendous suffering and socio-political upheaval.  

In 1937, for example, Pablo Picasso produced his nightmarish painting “Guernica,” depicting the bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War. And one of Iraqi pioneer Dia Al-Azzawi’s greatest works is his massive, emotionally-charged artwork based on the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut in 1982.   

UK-based Palestinian oud player Reem Anbar. (Supplied)

As Israel’s military assault on Gaza enters its fourth month, Palestinian artists at home and abroad are using art to express their emotions and to raise awareness of the suffering their countrymen have endured. Recent exhibitions in Dubai and Beirut have shown solidarity by exhibiting works by Palestinian artists.  

Reem Anbar is a daughter of war. Born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Gaza, the musician reportedly became her town’s first female oud player, despite a lack of opportunities for studying music. Though Anbar, a Master’s student in music therapy, currently lives in Manchester, England, her memories of growing up in Gaza remain fresh. “I was raised with war,” she says. “I faced three of them. In every war, we lost our homes, neighbors, friends. . . We were literally living in a prison.” 

But she still found some hope. Aged 11, Anbar picked up the oud at a local center that offered summer activities, and it’s been her companion ever since. “I don’t know why, but I used to feel like it was a weapon for me. It allowed me to express myself and talk about my cause, my feelings, my life,” she says.  

Anbar went on to form Gazelleband in the UK in 2017. “I didn’t want to come here as a refugee and do nothing with my life,” she says. “I came here to work. I go from town to town to spread my Palestinian music.”  

Sliman Mansour's 1985 painting 'Symbol of Hope' —  Mansour says he finds himself sharing images of his older work online, because 'nothing has changed.' (Supplied)

Anbar has concerts coming up in the UK and Italy. She’s been asked about how she could play music when her family and friends are being killed. But to her, music is solace.  

“Even if a rocket drops, I will still hold on to my oud. Wars motivate us to sing and make more music. In the end, we Palestinian artists are carrying our cause wherever we go,” she says. “A message can be passed on through art.”  

Like Anbar, 24-year-old Malak Mattar hails from Gaza and has found refuge in England. She says she grew up in a household that appreciated poetry and art, and her colorful, women-centric paintings pay homage to Palestinian heritage and visual culture. In the past three months, though, her work has taken a new direction, seeing her produce raw, charcoal drawings of victims of the recent attrocities. She was actually visiting Gaza in October, leaving just the day before the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7.  

“It’s the worst period of my life,” Mattar tells Arab News. “My family is still in Gaza. Every day is a new tragedy. What’s happening is genocide. Nowhere is safe.” 

A recent drawing by UK-based Palestinian artist Malak Matar. (Supplied)

 In these new drawings, Mattar depicts helpless infants and animals, damaged buildings, and wailing women in striking monochromatic tones.  

“I think it’s my protest as an artist, using only black and white,” she explains. “To be honest, some of the works were hard to do, but it’s my way of documenting what I’m seeing on social media through journalists and photographers’ accounts. I’m drawing something that I don’t want to forget.”  

The drawings will be displayed in London’s art-residency program “An Effort,” for which Mattar was selected as artist-in-residence. The violence and displacement faced by her family in Gaza has, of course, had a huge impact on her, but she realizes the importance of continuing to create.  

“I believe in art. It has a role to play — documenting everything and expressing something in a humane, moving way,” she says. “I think it’s bad to forget. Forgetting means betrayal. What we’re seeing are war crimes. I’m not just in a state of sadness, but anger too. I can’t face the outside world, because it let us down.”    

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, the veteran Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour is also preparing to showcase a new, surrealist-style canvas in a group exhibition at the end of January in Ramallah. These days, Mansour is taking things slow, not visiting his studio on a daily basis, and even when he does, it’s sometimes only to paint for an hour at a time.  

UK-based Palestinian artist Malak Matar. (Supplied)

“I talk to artists and friends and they all have the same problem: They don’t know what to do. There’s a kind of loss in this time period,” he says. “If I was to compare the situation we’re in right now and the First Intifada, the First Intifada had a stronger effect on art and culture. I think when people were participants in the battle, they were more creative. But, now, we are just viewers. We sometimes talk to artists in Gaza and their situation is terrible — they don’t have studios and their homes have been destroyed. When we told them about the Ramallah exhibition, they were very annoyed, saying: ‘We can’t find something to eat and you’re talking about exhibitions?’   

“It can seem as if art is not important during times like this,” he continues. “But I think it’s important — if not for this generation, then for future ones. Art reflects the soul of a certain time.” 

On Instagram, images of his melancholic figurative paintings are regularly circulated by younger audiences. Mansour finds himself sharing posts of his older work in the Eighties and Nineties. “Nothing has changed for us with the Occupation,” he says.  

The holy family under an olive tree (Acrylic and oil), Sliman Mansour, 2020. (Supplied)

Even though Dubai-based Palestinian artist Hazem Harb’s home in Gaza, which has belonged to his family for generations, has been destroyed, he — like Mansour — still believes that art has value in times like this. “I still can’t process that it’s gone,” he says. “Our whole lives and memories were in that house.”  

In November, Harb gave a live performance in Dubai, producing harrowing drawings of vulnerable faces on a huge canvas — part of his “Dystopia Is Not A Noun” charcoal series — accompanied by rousing music.  

“It was the first time in my life that I drew in front of people,” he says. “It was honestly a hard experience, but it was also expressive, letting out my feelings. Towards the end, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was literally painting from my gut.”  

He hopes that his November canvas will find a public home, such as a museum, to serve as a reminder of the atrocities that his native city has been subjected to. 

“Art,” he says, “absolutely has an important role to play — to tell and record these stories.”  

Supermodel Bella Hadid celebrates Palestinian symbols, designers on social media

Supermodel Bella Hadid celebrates Palestinian symbols, designers on social media
Updated 29 May 2024

Supermodel Bella Hadid celebrates Palestinian symbols, designers on social media

Supermodel Bella Hadid celebrates Palestinian symbols, designers on social media

DUBAI: US Dutch Palestinian supermodel Bella Hadid on Wednesday took to Instagram to explain the symbolism behind the keffiyeh print and spotlight designers who have “highlighted the Palestinian cause over the years.”

The catwalk star, daughter of real estate mogul Mohamed Hadid and US Dutch model Yolanda Hadid, made a powerful fashion statement on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival on May 23 by wearing a red-and-white dress inspired by the keffiyeh. The dress was designed by US designers Michael Sears and Hushi Mortezaie in 2001.

This week, the model shared pictures of the dress with her 61.1 million followers on Instagram, describing the ensemble as “a beautiful way to represent the history, labor of love, resilience, and most importantly the art of historic Palestinian embroidery.”



A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)


She then explained the meanings behind the patterns of the Palestinian keffiyeh, noting that they symbolize various themes.

The olive leaves represent “strength, resilience and perseverance,” she wrote. 

“The larger part of the of the keffiyeh is the fishnet pattern which resembles the relationship between the Palestinian fisherman and the sea. It symbolizes abundance and grace,” she explained. “To many of us, the sea also means freedom, especially to Palestinians living in the West Bank (who) have no access to the sea due to restricted movement.”

Hadid added that the sea waves resemble the “strength and resilience” of those who “persevered after 73 years under military occupation and oppression.”

Some commenters have claimed that the sea waves actually represent olive leaves, which Hadid considers an “important symbol.” However, after speaking with Judeh Hirbawi, the founder of the Hirbawi Factory fabric manufacturer in Hebron, she says she learned that the pattern indeed represents sea waves.

The bold lines “represent the trade routes going through Palestine, which played a vital role in carving the history and rich and diverse culture of our communities,” the supermodel added. 

Her post also included a heartfelt message about her heritage.

“Palestine on my mind, in my blood and on my heart (sic),” she said. "Always… while I still have to go to work, even through this horror, to wear our culture makes me a proud Palestinian and I want the world to continue to see Palestine, wherever we go.”

Adele wears Elie Saab gown at Las Vegas concert

Adele wears Elie Saab gown at Las Vegas concert
Updated 28 May 2024

Adele wears Elie Saab gown at Las Vegas concert

Adele wears Elie Saab gown at Las Vegas concert

DUBAI: British singer Adele showed off a gown by Lebanese designer Elie Saab during her Las Vegas residency over the weekend.  

The Grammy-winning singer performed her 42nd “Weekends with Adele” concert in a sleek black, off-shoulder gown with a deep V-neck.



A post shared by ELIE SAAB (@eliesaabworld)


“Captivating elegance, @adele graces the stage in Vegas in (a) … custom made Haute Couture gown,” read a post on the official Instagram page of Elie Saab.

Adele has previously chosen other designers from the region to wear during her residency, including Zuhair Murad and Georges Hobeika.

The residency is set to conclude in November this year.

Georgina Rodriguez collaborates with Faces Middle East beauty store

Georgina Rodriguez collaborates with Faces Middle East beauty store
Updated 28 May 2024

Georgina Rodriguez collaborates with Faces Middle East beauty store

Georgina Rodriguez collaborates with Faces Middle East beauty store

DUBAI: Argentine model Georgina Rodriguez took to social media to share images from her recent visit to beauty store Faces in Riyadh Park Mall.

The social media sensation – partner to football legend Cristiano Ronaldo – posted a reel on Instagram featuring moments from her trip to the store, captioning the post, “Beauty time with @facesmiddleeast,” along with a pink heart emoji.



Rodriguez can be seen getting an analysis with Faces’ skincare diagnosis machine and trying on several of the store’s products.

Rodriguez also took a moment to congratulate Ronaldo on Instagram Stories as the Portuguese footballer – who plays for Saudi football club Al-Nassr – set a new record for goals scored in a Saudi Pro League season.

The 39-year-old took his tally of goals scored to 35 after he netted two goals against Al-Ittihad on Monday night.

New film festival in London seeks to ‘reclaim, celebrate’ Muslim identity

New film festival in London seeks to ‘reclaim, celebrate’ Muslim identity
Updated 28 May 2024

New film festival in London seeks to ‘reclaim, celebrate’ Muslim identity

New film festival in London seeks to ‘reclaim, celebrate’ Muslim identity
  • Event features narratives from Muslim filmmakers, productions inspired by Muslim culture and faith

LONDON: A new film festival in the UK is on a mission to explore Muslim experiences through film.

The inaugural Muslim International Film Festival will begin on May 30 in London’s Leicester Square.

The four-day event features narratives from international Muslim filmmakers as well as productions inspired by Muslim culture and faith.

“The idea behind the festival is about reclaiming our identity and celebrating it. For the longest time, being Muslim has felt like something we can’t be proud of,” MIFF director Sajid Varda told Arab News.

He added: “We’ve had to hide our identity, and the narrative around our faith and identities has often been controlled by others.

“There’s been a persistent frustration with how to change those perceptions and how to reconnect with wider audiences and communities.

“We want to give them a glimpse into our lives and lived experiences, while also showcasing the cinematic brilliance of our creative community and its contributions to cinema.”

The event will begin with the London premiere of “Hounds” (“Les Meutes”) by Moroccan director Kamal Lazraq. The film follows a father and son in Casablanca’s suburbs who make ends meet by committing petty crimes for a local mob until a kidnapping goes horribly wrong.

Other highlights include critically acclaimed films set in the UK, France, Turkiye, Tunisia, Jordan, Iran and Sudan.

The festival will include Q&A sessions, panels and networking events in partnership with the British Film Commission, Netflix and the BBC.

Organizers have made the festival as accessible as possible to wider audiences, Varda said.

“We wanted to ensure that the films align with our faith and ethos, avoiding gratuitous violence, nudity and overtly sexual themes. This makes the content accessible to all, not just Muslims, but also people of other faiths and beliefs who might be sensitive to these issues.”

He added: “Our ticket costs are much lower compared to other festivals. We’ve also given out many tickets at no cost to various organizations, and offered discounts to students and those facing financial hardship.”

Review: ‘Norah’ makes Cannes history with its delicate handling of a Saudi story

Review: ‘Norah’ makes Cannes history with its delicate handling of a Saudi story
“Norah” had its official screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)
Updated 27 May 2024

Review: ‘Norah’ makes Cannes history with its delicate handling of a Saudi story

Review: ‘Norah’ makes Cannes history with its delicate handling of a Saudi story

CANNES: Director Tawfik Alzaidi's “Norah” made history when it was selected as the first Saudi film to screen on the official calendar at the Cannes Film Festival.

The film premiered at December’s Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah before heading to the French Riviera last week, where it ran in the famed festival’s Un Certain Regard section.

“Norah” is the story of a restless young woman (played with wonderful ease by Maria Bahrawi), who dreams of a life beyond her immediate surroundings.

Set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the pursuit of all art, including painting, was frowned upon, a new world opens up for Norah when Nader (Yaqoub Alfarhan), a failed artist and teacher from the city, comes to her village. Despite the rigid rules of society, the pair form a platonic relationship, linked by a passion for the arts. What emerges is a story in which the characters inspire each other, played out against the backdrop of the scenic AlUla region in Saudi Arabia, a location that is becoming a major moviemaking hub.

Norah, brought up by her uncle and aunt after having lost her parents early on, listens to music and pores over magazines. She encourages Nader to follow his passion for drawing, and their affection for each other gradually develops into an unshakable union.

The director strives to walk a tightrope, maintaining an equilibrium between Saudi sensibilities and a daringly emotional outlook. He explores the hesitant heartbeats of Norah and Nader but stops short of entering any overt romantic territory. The love affair, in this case, in one with the arts — both lead characters yearn for the chance to creatively express themselves.

While the narrative carries on at a gentle pace, the tone and tenure seem ruffled and out of place in the finale — with a rather bizarre ending marred by uncertainty. Alzaidi loses his grip over the narration, which until then seemed to have traversed a smooth road.