A declaration


I was taken by surprise when Vera Tamari invited me to be this month’s guest in the “artist of the month” section of the Virtual Gallery. I hesitated to answer, even after Jamil had sent me the letter of invitation with all the details that this project entailed, for I was already involved in several unfinished projects and plans and this would be an added burden, rather difficult to accomplish.


In the middle of crowded days and daily battles, some big, some small, that seem to besiege one, a lurking question arose: Is this necessary? Is there something that one can say, from upon a platform? Is there room for a voice in our time?

In these turning moments , the landscape disappears, turns about on itself, gets confused, distracting more and more the vision. In our country we are always able to profess that we are at the cross-road of something, or at some sensitive intersections. We stride along an endless road without a defined goal. Our reaction to everything be it politics, human and social development, beliefs or art, is bound by those turning points; blocked paths and open-ended horizons that no one seems able to touch.

In the midst of all what life offers of daunting, beautiful and mysterious queries, art remains the environment where artists find their points of reference and from where they, in a multitude of forms and variations ask the bewildering, existential questions of time and place. Art is an endless source of questioning; it is a vehicle by which we query things- about life and all that is with life itself.

The invitation to prepare the material for this issue came at a time when I was deeply aware of the misery and frustrations filling our days; in Lebanon , in Iraq and particularly in Palestine . I felt this not only as a result of occupation but as a result of an inner turmoil related to our shaken national plan in finding justice to our cause. This cause that is so clear to fiend and foe alike, has become hostage to illiterate gangs, blackmailers and to foreign agendas all scheming against the well being of the people. Meanwhile I was, as usual, trying to resist two things; smoking or at least reducing my intake and staying away from radio and television newscasts, especially on the Al-Jazeera T.V. Channel. In so doing, I would be reducing the chances of an attack to my forty plus heart and I would be avoiding being disgusted with myself, my people and my country, for what they have inflicted against themselves and their own rights.

It was not Gaza the city, neither Gaza the Strip nor the West Bank , nor was it the days of criminal tragedies that took away innocent lives and subjected our just cause to the perils of dishonor. Dark values replaced those already deeply rooted; it was not Gaza , the one I love, that was getting close to a tragic ending for sure. Gaza is not fated to surrender to those children of hers who were playing havoc with its security. It will not surrender to any armed gunmen or to a certain family, for such things happen and may happen in other places in the world not necessarily threatened by dangers and a debilitating siege. By retracting its steps, Gaza was resisting its death.

At that time, art seemed to me in a sugar-like state, caught in the act of sweetening an under-puffed fateful death. Here we were in Ramallah, participating in a cultural life-style like that of a European city with deeply rooted cultural traditions; festivals, panel discussions exhibitions, entertainment centers, restaurants and a thriving building and economic boom. This might not necessarily be reflective of a powerful desire to survive, yet it was all there, and I cannot say whether it was the people’s capacity to innovate, resist and recreate what is being destroyed in another place, or was it all just a coincidence.

I say this after being with some visiting artists from Gaza . I say this when I am on the phone with some of my relatives and friends, knowing they are in danger, knowing that the Gaza strip is subjected to sabotage, kidnappings and confiscation of land. I say this when I realize that Gaza is living a curse ; not comprehending how the people of Gaza are able to rationalize living side by side with all this frivolity . How can I notice the beauty of a tree, the magic of the Palestinian spring? How can we not be anxious as the wind storms from underneath us? But spring does come, gloriously, ignoring our emotional state: had we noticed what went on in our landscape, this landscape which had itself ignored us? And so we live our days armed with hope of an inevitable ending to this boring, hateful occupation; a summer cloud that will surely pass.

This description is by no means a beautification nor a justification, it is simply life that makes us able to leave our homes, go about our ways, laugh and tell stories to our children, paint, work an art project, or do anything to just run away from the phantoms of the night that is to come.

My art work does not preach that all is well with the world, that art has the power to make life more beautiful, my art is based on doubt and deception. Like life, art too on its own merit is subject for criticism and review. Criticizing “criticism” to expose what we might face while scrutinizing, questioning and analyzing how we see things, how we perceive them from various corners and points of reference.

I sketched and painted
I wrote and told stories
I was happy and I was sad and in my workshop I made a home for pigeons and despair could not touch me.

It is art that might enflame the heart and illuminate the memory. It is art that might invite you to lounge or lie down on a sofa in front of a television screen that spells catastrophe, invite you to sleep or to think of nothingness.

Khalid Hourani