Artistic talent from Palestine

This Is Palestine is a week-long celebration of Palestinian art and culture happening in Dubai’s Meydan complex.

Children Collection 1 by Abdelraouf Al Ajouri. Courtesy Alhoush
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If you happen to live in Gaza, where the simple daily needs of life are a struggle, finding a platform to display your art is an almost impossible feat.

This week, when the work of 200 Palestinian artists goes on show in Dubai’s prestigious Meydan complex, it is a stepping stone that could transform their lives.

The art exhibition is titled This Is Palestine and it is the main component in a week-long event.

Alongside the art will be design and photography exhibitions, musical performances, screenings of award-winning films and other cultural activities.

“We will show the amazing pillars of Palestinian cultural achievement,” says the founder Ehab Shanti. “The principal aim is to tell a different story about Palestine so that people know the other side, the creative, optimistic side that is far away from the horrors of war.”

The concept for this kind of event began around five years ago when Shanti, who is Canadian but of Palestinian descent, travelled to Gaza for the first time.

At the time, he was the head of communications for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Jerusalem and he says it was then that he saw “firsthand the power of art”.

He helped to set up the UNDP Annual Art Auction and then, after leaving his post in the UN, went on to form his own business, – an online portal for Arab artists and designers to display and sell their work.

The website was successful but to drive business, Shanti started organising off-line events as well. The first edition of This Is Also Gaza, held in Amman in April 2012, featured 40 Gazan painters, photographers, filmmakers and video artists.

Then he organised two shows called Colours of the Future, held in Amman and in Abu Dhabi, for Jordanian and Emirati artists respectively.

This Is Palestine is the biggest and most ambitious project so far, with the 200 relatively unknown artists set to display 250 pieces of work across the Meydan complex and a steady stream of activities throughout the week, which will keep the people coming.

Nadia Dajani, who makes jewellery in the shape of Arabic calligraphy and has been using for three years, says it is this kind of event that gives Palestinians hope.

“Palestine is relegated to one aspect only in the media,” she says, “thereby ignoring a large number of people and a vast reservoir of talent. Palestinians belong to the Arab world as a whole and need to be seen. This [event] is a great vehicle for their exposure, and also to show the wonderful contributions that they have to offer.”

By keeping the focus on cultural development and away from politics, Shanti says that his message will be “a million times more powerful”.

To round off the event, which will end on the day before Art Dubai starts, Shanti says he has a special treat in store for art lovers. One of the most well-known paintings of the Arab world, Jamal Al Mahamel (The Camel of Hardships), which depicts a man with Jerusalem on his back, will be on show to the public and auctioned off on the last day.

Painted by Suleiman Mansour, Shanti says the painting is recognisable throughout the ­region, serving as a beacon of hope and optimism.

“The power of art is to be able to transcend reality and to create beauty and colour that the artists might not necessarily have,” he says. “The role of art, therefore, is to create a different reality and that can change things and that is the philosophy behind what we are doing.”

This Is Palestine runs from Wednesday until March 19 at Meydan’s Imax complex. Tickets for the event are Dh150. For more information, visit