Episode 10 – Gaza
A podcast by Alia Rayyan and Alaa Barghouthi
Mahmoud Al Shaer
When Beyond the Norm Becomes the NormEpisode 10 of the Timezones podcast series, co-initiated and co-produced by Norient and the Goethe-Institut. This episode features a group of artists from the Gaza Strip, a territory suffering from the Israeli blockade established in 2007. This podcast episode reflects the digital reality of being together as a people and thus sheds light on the enormous challenges of working as a Palestinian artist today.
This slightly different journey will take you to the Gaza Strip – a territory that is 41 kilometers long and between 6 and 12 kilometers wide. A city that is located on the Mediterranean Sea, a coastal city, a city everyone knows from the news. Gaza is not a place that is easy to explore, sealed since 2007 when Israel started the blockade that limits the free movement of two million Palestinians, faced with the ongoing question of proving its existence, of being seen, being heard – and not being forgotten. For Palestinians from other areas, it not possible to enter Gaza, which shapes the reality of not being able to talk in person, to meet, or to work together. An ongoing interruption of a people’s life.
This episode reflects the digital reality of being together as a people – and introduces us to a group of artists, writers, and musicians who came together for six months in a virtual course called “After the Turn”. The course was established to conduct a reflective educational online program on contemporary art practice and theory, realized as a result-open digital knowledge platform and a virtual free space under the same name following the end of the course. Catching up with three artists from this group, we listen to their thoughts about work and life and gain a glimpse into their reality.
Playlist of artists from Palestine and their latest releases,
curated by Maha El Nabawi
This is a slightly different journey that will take you to the Gaza Strip, a territory that is 41 kilometers long, from 6 to 12 kilometers wide, on the Mediterranean Sea, a coastal city, a city that everyone knows from the news.
Gaza is not a place that is easy to discover, sealed since 2007, where only employees of international organizations enter for short-term visits that look like expeditions to a no man’s land. The first and last time I was in Gaza was in the early 1990s, when it was still somehow possible for us to travel there.
Today, if we as Palestinian artists want to meet, talk, or work beyond border lines drawn around us, we have to choose the digital way – getting a permit to enter Gaza is nearly impossible.
[1:37] Alia Rayyan
Creating this episode reflects our reality in digitally being together as a people – a production of Palestinian artists, musicians and writers across multiple places and countries.
We were sending questions to each other and recorded them wherever we were at that specific moment, continuing a conversation in our heads. Questions around what it means to be an artist in Gaza, how we work despite the challenges, how we explain that, and what we connect with place. It’s a collection of thoughts. Gathered around our experience of a joint group exhibition that was presented in Gaza in November 2021, the following voices of Rehaf Batniji, Salman Nawati, and Mahmoud Al Shaer capture a glimpse of being despite all odds.
[2:59] Salman Nawati
|I’m Salman Al Nawati.||أنا سلمان النواتي.|
|I draw my inspiration from my daily life and from a number of events and situations I am exposed to.||أستمد إلهامي من حياتي اليومية، ومن كم الأحداث والمواقف التي أتعرض لها.|
|All my ideas start with things and details that revolve around my personal life.||تبدأ كل الأفكار من أشياء وتفاصيل تتمحور حول حياتي الشخصية.|
|And my artistic projects are a translation and embodiment of these ideas that relate in one way or another to my personal. beliefs, experiences, and relationships with everything that surrounds me.||وتكون مشاريعي الفنية ترجمة وتجسيدا لهذه الأفكار التي تتعلق بشكل أو بآخر بقناعاتي الفردية وتجربتي الشخصية وعلاقتي بكل شيء يحيط بي.|
|“To be an artist” means to be everything and nothing at the same time.||"أن تكون فنانا" يعني أن تكون كل شيء ولا شيء في الوقت نفسه.|
|Art makes you feel that you are, in certain situations with certain people, the most important thing in the universe.||يجعلك الفن تشعر بأنك أهم شيء في الكون في لحظات معينة وفي مواقف معينة ومع أشخاص بعينهم.|
|And in other moments, you feel that you are nothing and everything you did doesn’t count for these people, or to you, or to the place in which you were born.||وفي لحظات أخري تشعر أنك لا شيء وأن كل ما تقوم به لا يساوي شيئا عند هؤلاء الأشخاص ولا عندك ولا بالنسبة للمكان الذي وُلِدت فيه أو اللحظة التي وُلِدت فيها.|
|It is a contradictory feeling; You are everything and nothing.||فهو شعور متناقض في اللحظة نفسها؛ أنك كل شيء ولا شيء.|
[5:10] Salman Nawati
|It is difficult to live only as an artist.||من الصعب أن يعيش الإنسان بوصفه فنانا فقط.|
|It is not possible until after a period of fame and experience and after gaining sufficient credibility that he can live and secure his daily life.||فلا يمكن ذلك إلا بعد فترة من الشهرة ومن الخبرة وبعد أن يكون لديه رصيد كاف يسمح له بالعيش وبتأمين قوت يومه وحياته، مثلما يقولون.|
|It is not easy to be a Palestinian and an artist at the same time because that involves a double responsibility, the responsibility towards your artistic being and the responsibility you have towards the cause, your people.||ليس من السهل أن تكون فلسطينيا وفنانا في الوقت نفسه، لأن هذا يُحمِّلك مسؤولية كبيرة، مسؤولية كفنان ومسؤولية وطنية.|
|But this is another topic and a long topic which needs much more time to explain and would include details and a lot of different experiences from others.||وهذا موضوع يطول شرحه ويتضمن تفاصيل وتجربة تختلف من فنان لآخر.|
|And in a nutshell, that’s it.||هذا كل شيء.|
[7:56] Rehaf Al Batniji
My name is Rehaf Al Batniji, a photographer from Gaza. I have been involved in photography for more than 10 years.
My last experience at the Geographies of a Divine Place group exhibition was in painting. It was the first time to share my paintings. Painting has always been my way of expressing my feelings privately, although sometimes it has also been a way of teaching myself and practicing patience.
[9:18] Rehaf Al Batniji
These sketches were made during the last attack on Gaza, when I had no other choice. The black pencil and my notebook were the only way I could translate the sounds, the fear, and the thoughts I had into sketches. Later I discovered that they resembled the thoughts and realities of families who have lost their children or parents.
[10:44] Rehaf Al Batniji
This was my first attempt to share my paintings with others and it will not be my last. Usually, painting was an escape, but this time it was a way to heal from everything around me.
During the attack, you are no longer in control of anything, even the things you own, even your own body now belongs to the occupation and violence. One thing that bothered me a lot is that even when you sleep, your ears are still on. So I think all these sounds were translated in my sketches into something more traceable.
[12:18] Rehaf Al Batniji
|The influence of the location gives us sometimes power to produce and pushes our determination.||في بعض الأحيان يكون تأثير الموقع هو المسؤول عن منح قوة كبيرة جدا للإنتاج وللإصرار على الإنتاج.|
|This has to do with how we dissociate ourselves or how we decide to read reality in our way, and get the work we need done.||لأن هذا يرتبط بكيف نقرر أن ننأى بأنفسنا أو كيف نقرر أن نقرأ الواقع بطريقتنا، وننجز العمل الذي نحتاج إليه.|
|I imagine Gaza as a burning place.||لذلك أتخيل أن غزة مكان مشتعِل.|
|Under normal circumstances, it’s not easy for any artist in the world to be in this place that is always on a hot stove top, even food has to cool a little bit to be eatable, but we, we are here on a hotplate all the time.||وفي الظروف العادية ليس سهلا على أي فنان في العالم بأكمله أن يكون داخل هذا المكان الذي دائما ما يكون فوق صفيح ساخن.
حتى الطعام يحتاج إلى أن يبرد قليلا كي نتمكن من تناوله، لكننا هنا فوق صفيح ساخن طول الوقت.
|I think I have found my own way of dealing with living in this somewhat difficult area.||لكنني أعتقد أن لدي طريقتي في التعامل مع وجودي بهذه المنطقة التي تتسم بصعوبة العيش فيها إلى حد ما.|
[13:51] Rehaf Al Batniji
|My inspiration for projects comes from observing, because most of the projects I work on are in public areas and spaces, so it’s like studying the shape of these spaces or the changes that occur in them.||ينبع إدراكي للمشاريع من المتابعة. لأن أغلب المشاريع التي أعمل عليها تكون في المساحات والفضاءات العامة، لذلك فهي – إلى حد ما – تشبه دراسة شكل هذه المساحات أو التغيرات التي تحدث فيها.|
|Sometimes the projects are like research, it starts in one place and then ends up in a completely different place.||لذلك أحيانا ما تكون بحثية، وتنطلق من مكان ثم تنتهي في مكان مختلف تماما. وتأخذ سياقات وتركيبات أخرى.|
|It takes other contexts and combinations, sometimes it is built from only one scene and the entire project is completed in one hour.||وأحيانا تُبنَى من مشهد واحد فقط. فيتم إنجاز المشروع بأكمله في ساعة واحدة.|
|Sometimes the project takes more than seven or eight months, but I’ve been working on my last project for seven years.||وأحيانا يستغرق المشروع أكثر من سبعة أو ثمانية شهور. لكنني أعمل على مشروعي الأخير منذ سبعة سنوات.|
|This is how my projects are done.||هذا هو الشكل الذي تُبنَى به مشاريعي.|
|My limitation in working is that the tools I need are not always available – to some extent.||تتمثل القيود التي تواجهني في العمل في أن الأدوات التي أحتاجها لا تكون متاحة دائما – إلى حد ما.|
|Most importantly, the photo must be printed at the end so that it becomes available to people just as it was when it was taken.||والأهم من ذلك هو أنه لا بد من طباعة الصورة في النهاية، كي تصبح صورة وتصبح متاحة للناس مثلما كانت وقت التقاطها.|
|This aspect is very weak in Gaza and does not receive the attention it needs.||هذا الجانب ضعيف جدا في غزة – إلى حد ما – ولا يلقى الاهتمام الذي يحتاجه على نحو مناسب.|
|Most of my photos that I print, I print to work on them in a collage style, and the quality of the printed photos is not very good.||أغلب صوري التي أطبعها، أقوم بطباعتها كي أعمل عليها بأسلوب الكولاج (collage)، ولا تكون دقة الصورة جيدة جدا.|
[16:13] Rehaf Al Batniji
|The street is what inspires me most in life.||الشارع هو أكثر شيء يُلهمني في الحياة.|
|I love the street and – without deciding whether I want to produce a photographic work or not – I love being on the street, and I love observing people’s movements, colors, sounds, and every rapid change as they extend my ideas and take me to whole new ones.||أحب الشارع وأحب – دون أن أقرر ما إن كنت أرغب في إنتاج عمل فوتوجرافي أم لا – وجودي في الشارع، وأحب مراقبة حركات الناس والألوان والأصوات والتغيرات شديدة السرعة، فهي تعطيني مساحة واسعة داخل الفكرة وتأخذني إلى أفكار لم تخطر على بالي من قبل.|
|As for the question “What does it mean to be an artist?”: to be honest, I do not have a specific answer to this question, because I am not an artist by chance and also, I do not intend to be an artist.||بالنسبة لسؤال "ماذا يعني أن أكون فنانا؟"ـ، في الحقيقة ليس عندي جواب محدد لهذا السؤال، لأنني لست فنانة بمحض الصدفة وأيضا لا أتعمَّد أن أكون فنانة.|
|I choose the picture because it is the only window through which I view the world, and it is the window through which the world looks out on me.||أنا أختار الصورة لأنها النافذة الوحيدة التي أُطِل منها على العالم، وهي النافذة التي يُطل منها العالم عليّ.|
|And this is important, because it shapes the reality around me more specifically and makes it always available in some way and gives it some meaning.||وهذا أمر مهم، لأنه يصيغ الواقع حولي على نحو أكثر تحديدا ويجعله متاحا دائما بطريقة ما، ويمنحه بعض القوة.|
[19:51] Mahmoud Al Shaer
When I think about what inspires me as an artist and what it means to be an artist in a place like Gaza, I have to start with the pressure and the feeling of being stuck as a human being and the point of finding my way to deal with this situation that involves conflict, rupture, loss, and above all annexation.
There is also a determination that drives and inspires me – the determination to stand up against this fundamental oppression and live in spite of this siege, as Majdal Nateel once described it. My friend and colleague.
[20:47] Mahmoud Al Shaer
An art project begins with the text. I am a writer and so I define my creativity through the text that is produced. This kind of creative production reflects what makes us as human beings, what is on our positive side – and emphasizing that we exist.
[21:38] Mahmoud Al Shaer
We face many restrictions and challenges as artists living in Gaza – the occupation and siege create, I may say so, kind of an endless circle of oppression, affecting all areas of your life – that starts within your own four walls, goes into your family, into society and goes up to the government. It is mirrored in the travel ban and the lack of educational opportunities that restrict your development and growth, as it prevents you from exploring beyond an imprisoned place.
[22:47] Mahmoud Al Shaer
Thinking about the restrictions in Gaza for an artist is not something you like to do – I don’t want to do it – because it makes me think about the points that hinder me in my life as an artist. When we talk about the situation, we talk about continuous restrictions and not about inspiration. So it is kind of the opposite of what we should talk about or think about as artists. So, if you are an artist, you need to ignore these limitations in order to continue and to survive. If you reflect too much on it – you lose yourself.
[23:32] Mahmoud Al Shaer
Collaborating with other artists gave me a different perspective in this time and situation. Witnessing the creative process of others, being part of their development, discussion and production process left a mark and enriched me. For the first time, I had the feeling that I was part of something that was realized for our own society and not under the limelight of an international NGO. This was a precious moment shared with the others – finally hearing our voices raised.
Rehaf Al Batniji is a self-taught photographer and visual artist based in Gaza City, Palestine, who has participated in several local and international exhibitions. Most recently, Rehaf was artist-in-residence at Felipa Manuela in Madrid (Dec 21–Feb 22, 2022) and digitally presented her work at Slidefest Palestine as part of the Gulf Photo Plus festival in Dubai (Feb 22, 2022). Her first solo exhibition took place in the backyard (Al Hakoora) of her house in Gaza City in 2020. Rehaf has previously collaborated with organizations such as Riwaq, UNESCO, and ICRC Palestine on a variety of projects.
Mahmoud Al Shaer, born in 1990, Gaza. Mahmoud has been volunteering and working as a writer, content creator, editor-in-chief and executive director for 28-Magazine in Gaza for over four years. He is also the cultural program coordinator at the Bait Al-Ghussein Archaeological Cultural Center. Mahmoud has been very active in the field of literature and poetry as well as in several coalitions and committees such as the Qurtoba Cultural Coalition, 28-Magazine, Khuta Book Publishing, and many others. He is also an active member of several national associations such as the General Union of Palestinian Writers.
Alia Rayyan – LinkedIn
Alaa Barghouthi is a producer, sound engineer, sound designer, keyboardist, vocalist, music producer, and foley artist based in Ramallah, Palestine. Alaa has collaborated with numerous big names in the local rap scene as well as underground legends such as The Synaptik, Marwan Mousa, Al Feri, Julmud, Samra sounds, and big murk. In addition, Alaa creates, samples, and composes music/sound to complete his own unique form of music.
Beyond Borders: Bringing Artists Together Despite the Odds
moderated and produced by Rania Al Namara (Elhelo)
This bonus talk features a conversation with artist Kamal Aljafari and Alia Rayyan, one of the producers of the Timezones Gaza episode, about their experiences working virtually with Gaza artists. They share their insights on what it feels like to not be in the same location and what it means to work in a place like Gaza. The episode taps into the meanings and interpretations of space and place for Palestinian artists while collaborating and coming together from different locations and spaces.
In an attempt to use the best available technologies to make it possible, the interview was conducted and recorded via Zoom. Just like the episode itself, the production of this bonus talk mirrors and amplifies the challenges and constraints Gazans encounter in communicating with the outside world. In addition, this bonus talk elaborates on issues of representation and inclusion in experimenting with virtual platforms as potential free art spaces.
Kamal Aljafari is an acclaimed Palestinian filmmaker and artist. His work has been shown worldwide at film festivals such as the Berlinale, Locarno, Viennale, and Rotterdam, and museums such as the MoMA and Tate Modern. He attended the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne and now lives in Berlin, Germany.
Artistic Editor: Abhishek Matur
Project Management: Hannes Liechti
Video Trailer: Emma Nzioka
Jingle Voiceover: Nana Akosua Hanson
Jingle Mix: Daniel Jakob
Mastering: Adi Flück, Centraldubs
Artwork: Šejma Fere
Photography: Rehaf Al Batniji
The episode contains samples from Rehaf Batniji, Mahmoud Al Shaer, Mahmoud Abu Warda, Majdal Nateel, Hassan Qaoud, and Khaeld Jarada, Geographies of a Place Divine, 2021, video installation, 2:22 min loop, After the Turn, Gaza.
The TIMEZONES podcast series plunges into the world of artists and their practices, asking: What does living and working in culture and the arts involve in different countries, cities and contexts today? The artists’ thoughts on their moods, their social, political and intellectual realities and their philosophies (of life) have been worked up into experimental audio collages.
The podcasts run the gamut of formats and content, from straight journalism to experimental and documentary approaches, ethnography and fiction, sound art and improvisation. The TIMEZONES series endeavours to create new artistic forms of storytelling, listening and exchange across the boundaries of geography, time zones, genres and practices.
The TIMEZONES Podcast Series is co-initiated and co-produced by Norient and the Goethe Institut.
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