Alicia Mersy, I Wish Palestinians Were Free, 2020.Courtesy Alicia MersyAs tensions between Israel and Palestine continue to escalate, artists are banding together to support victims of the conflict. Their projects have taken the form of print sales, Instagram Live sessions, and even NFTs, often with the focus on Palestine.
Protests erupted earlier this month after an Israeli court ruled in favor of Jewish settlers attempting to force Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood, from their homes. The events that followed have led to bloodshed. According to the New York Times, as of Thursday morning, more than 200 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had been killed by Israeli airstrikes, while at least 10 people in Israeli had been killed by rockets launched by the militant group Hamas.
In at least two cases, these events have had a direct impact on an art institution. On Tuesday, the Dar Yusuf Nasri Jacir for Art and Research, an arts center in Bethlehem founded by Palestinian artist Emily Jacir, said it had been raided by the IDF. Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art told Artnet News that it had taken works off its walls and stored them in its basement for fear of damage by rockets nearby.
Within the U.S. and the U.K., some members of the art world has gotten involved in pro-Palestine protests. As part of the protest series Strike MoMA, which is intended to bring attention to perceived inequities at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, groups such as Decolonize This Place have called for scrutiny of alleged connections between Israeli military forces and board members such as Leon Black and Larry Fink.
Meanwhile, Boycott Divest Zabludowicz (BDZ), an activist group founded in 2014, released a call for artists to de-author or withdraw work owned or exhibited by prominent collectors Anita and Poju Zabludowicz, who have faced criticism for ties to pro-Israel lobbying groups and the Israeli Air Force. More than 600 artists and cultural workers have signed the letter, including artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Forensic Architecture founder Eyal Weizman, art historian Claire Bishop, and the group Reena Spaulings Fine Art.
Below, a look at four artist-run initiatives intended to support Palestinian victims of the Israeli shelling.
Ground Reports from Artists in Palestine
Turner Prize–nominated artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan, who is known for mapping the relationship between sound and military action in his work, has used his Instagram to share live reports from fellow artists in Palestine. On his account, Palestinian artist Inas Halabi broadcast footage of a police crackdown in the city of Haifa that took place after Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque, firing rubber bullets and tear gas at civilian worshippers. The recordings appeared to show sound bombs and stun grenades being thrown into crowds.
Halabi also captured video that appeared to show Israeli police on horseback trampling Palestinian protestors and spraying “skunk water,” a liquid compound whose putrid stench lingers for days. Halabi is part of the collective Artists for Palestine UK, which released a statement calling for artists to divest from Israeli arts institutions: “We think artists and arts producers should collectively refuse to engage with a system that oppresses Palestinians. We should build pressure on our own governments to take action. They must hold Israel to account for its violations of Palestinian rights and end Israeli impunity.”
T-Shirts for a Cause
Jordan Nassar, an artist whose work employs traditional Palestinian hand embroidery to examine identity, has launched a fundraiser to provide medical aid to people in Gaza. T-shirts featuring artwork designed by Emma Kohlman are available for purchase via Instagram, with all proceeds from the sale going to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, the Palestine Medical Society, and Medical Aid for Palestine, all of which provide medical care to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and refugee camps across the region. Additionally, together with Election Reform!, a fashion line founded by L.A. artist Brendan Fowler, Nassar is designing a poster to accompany the shirts which details what action can be taken to support Palestine. “Fundraising is important, but it is only the first step,” Nassar wrote on Instagram. “We need to change how our countries interact with Israel, and that starts from us, the people.”
Prints for Palestine
Earlier this week, artists Meriem Bennani, Nabil Harb, Amanny Ahmad, Alicia Mersy, Two Lizards (Meriem Bennani & Orian Barki), and Farah Al Qasimi launched a print sale with all proceeds given to Medical Aid for Palestine and Build Palestine, a crowdfunding platform for local communities. The event featured works available for $200; many sold out before the sale ended.
Works offered in the sale included a still from 2 Lizards, the widely watched series of videos released on IGTV featuring the titular animals navigating pandemic-era New York. Al Qasimi, whose visual language often centers Arab female identity, offered a print from her public art project “Back and Forth Disco,” which placed her photographs at bus shelters around New York. In her series, Al Qasimi captured the everyday of New Yorkers living between cultures through joyous pops of color and bright patterns.
An NFT to Raise Awareness
Ramallah-based artist Khaled Jarrar, known for staging political protests through conceptual artworks, has created a new NFT that aims to bring attention to the annexation of land in Palestine. Titled If I don’t steal your home someone else will steal it, the work is accompanied by a physical jar of soil of the region. “The project is borne from daily walks around mountains of the occupied Palestine, where Israeli settlers continue to grab land and prevent farmers and hikers from accessing what is rightfully […] ours,” Jarrar said in a statement. Bidding is now open for the NFT on the blockchain site Zora, and part of the proceeds will be used to fund tree and olive planting initiatives in Palestine.