Monday, 31 October 2011

The Lioness of Iran

Shiva Rahbaran interviews Simin Behbahāni October 2011

 Guernica Magazine

Iran’s most prominent poet, a two-time Nobel nominee, on the greatest epic in history, the nightmare of censorship, and why her country will eventually achieve democracy.

Simin Behbahāni is optimistic about where Persian thought and literature are headed despite Iranian society’s many post-revolution disillusionments. She speaks of the ruinous itinerary of the “literature of censorship” and the phenomenon of self-censorship, but she believes that exceptional knowledge has been stored up given Iranian social and cultural resistance to the consequences of the 1979 revolution. This knowledge creates fertile ground for the growth of contemporary Persian literature. From this perspective, the importance of poets and writers for the survival of Iranian civil society is undeniable. Behbahāni points out that this role has been inherited today after a thousand years of attacks on Iran’s writers and thinkers.

Behbahāni views her poetry in its historical context. She sees herself as an iconoclast, but has never severed her link with Iran’s past literature. On this same basis, far from attaching any importance, as a poet, to ‘being a woman,’ she considers any reference to it an insult. In other words, her poetry is part of Persian poetry as a whole, whether produced by men or by women. Behbahāni’s poetry is varied and, as she puts it, “multi-vocal,” because her poetry is the poetry of the “moments” of her life— whether the moments of “convoys of war martyrs on their way to the cemeteries” and “lorries carrying the bodies of executed prisoners, dripping with blood” or the moments of happiness. For Behbahāni, a good poem is one in which “today’s language, today’s events, and today’s needs” are poured into the mold of rhyme and meter.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Contemporary Art in the Middle East

Farhad Moshiri (Iran, b. 1963), Eshgh (Love), Swarovski crystals and glitter on canvas with acrylic, mounted on mdf, signed and dated 2007, 170 x 155 x 8 cm, sold for over $1 Million.

by , arts, ink.

As far back as art historians seem to be able to go, art has always existed as a means of resistance, a catalyst to revolution, and a construct for exposing societal and political flaws.  With the continual privatization of the art market all over the world, guiding it out of the hands of restricting state and religious direction and patronage, artists are freer than ever to combine their own dissatisfactions with the existing power structure, stereotypes, preconceptions, etc. with forms of art that are more experimental and avant-garde.   Increasingly, the once European and U.S. dominated art market has shifted considerably.  Though cities like London and New York are still the major sellers of art, and Paris may always be the prime location for exhibition, some of the highest selling and most talked about art is coming out of places like Beijing and Dubai.   Themes that are common are usually similar to the same values coming out of Western contemporary art like feminism, war, and consumerism.  Aesthetically, the two hemispheres have been producing vey similar looking art as well.  Some point to this as an achievement in the universality and pervasiveness of art, though the point has also been made by some scholars that European art has had its own form of ‘colonialism,’ and Middle Eastern art (and for that matter, African and Asian) has been overly influenced by Eurocentrism, to the point where the unique Middle Eastern artistic tradition has been overshadowed and replaced with art that is a product of European art history.  If this is the case, the Middle East seems to be beating the West at their own game.  In 2008, Farhad Moshiri became the first Middle Eastern artist to sell an artwork at auction for over $1 million (specifically $1.05 million), and the numbers have only been growing since, with the Dubai Art Faire attracting some of the most elite in the art world, to the point where they have been the ones donating to the Louvre.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Islamic Galleries at the Met Have a Grand Reopening

by Carolyn Weaver, VOA

It was eight years in the making.  Now, New York’s Metropolitan Museum is reopening its enormous collection of Islamic art in a grand new setting. The objects span nearly 13 centuries and many cultures - and include items ranging from paintings to architectural works to medieval Korans.

The Metropolitan Museum has some of the richest holdings of Islamic art anywhere - but the collection has been largely out of sight for the last eight years, as the museum renovated. Now, the 15 new galleries have greatly expanded the museum's display space for Islamic art. The rooms are grouped by regions and period, from the 7th century to the end of the 19th century.

“Our galleries are named the Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and later South Asia," said Sheila Canby, the Met’s chief curator for Islamic art.  "We have done that because that is the geographical region, area, that we cover."

Friday, 28 October 2011

Iranian puppet theatre: Where humans fear to tread

by Nuala Calvi, The Stage

In a society where people and particularly women are constrained by a code of conduct set out by an oppressive government, puppetry has evolved as an art form because the dolls are free to act out scenarios that are forbidden to people. Nuala Calvi investigates the creative world of Iranian puppetry
 A scene from Yas-e-Tamam's The House of Bernarda Alba

The last few years have seen an explosion of interest in puppetry for adults in the UK, with the monumental success of War Horse and the founding of Suspense, London’s first puppetry festival for grown-ups. But that’s nothing, it turns out, compared to what has been underway in Iran - where increased censorship in theatre has led more and more artists to turn to the art form.

“One of the most noticeable things about Iranian theatre at the moment is the huge outpouring of puppetry,” says Anousheh Adams, a British- Iranian expert on international arts. “It’s a massively popular art form there now, on a scale that I haven’t seen in any other country.”

Mapping Tehranto: Queen Gallery

by Sima Sahar Zerehi, Shahrvand 

It’s a small narrow gallery space nestled in a refurbished brownstone, a typical building for Toronto’s east end.

The interior is a combination of brick walls and picturesque narrow wooden stairways – a relatively high ceiling and large storefront windows give the boutique space a sense of airiness.

At night, when the street is dark, the space glows – distinguishing itself from its neighbouring shops – coming to life with the presence of patrons and visitors poised to see the works of emerging artists.

Just a few short blocks away from Toronto’s Distillery District, Queen Gallery is a tell-tale sign of the expansion of the city’s art scene into the east end.

Having just celebrated its second anniversary, the boutique gallery is no longer simply the new kid on the block of the Iranian-Canadian art scene.

During its two short years, Queen Gallery has made its mark as a destination for those interested in contemporary art produced by Iranian artists residing in all corners of the world.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The women behind Tehran's mysterious 'Ladies in Red'

Every day, a woman dressed in red from head to toe stands in Tehran’s Ferdowsi Square, seemingly waiting for someone.
This strange scene takes place daily between 6pm and 7pm. The young lady in red always stands in the same spot, in the northwest corner of the square. This is in fact a performance art piece, which, with the authorities’ approval, has been going on for nearly three months now. The lady in red, played by volunteers, is not always alone - on October 13, about 40 ladies in red spread all over the square.

Photo posted on the Facebook group Lady in Red. 

The event is promoted on Facebook under the title “Lady in Red, Reperformance.” The idea is to bring back to life one of the capital’s local legends. As the story goes, in the 1960s and 1970s, a woman with a bony, weathered face, who always wore make-up, stood in Ferdowki Square from dawn to dusk. This lasted for two decades. Everything she wore was red: her bag, her shoes, her socks, her skirt – and of course the rose she always carried around. Toward the end of her life, she added a red veil and a red cane. Because of her expression, passers-by believed she was waiting for someone who she expected to show up at any minute.

“The legend says that a lady had a rendezvous with her beloved, but he never showed up”

New York's Met Museum showcases a world of Islamic treasures

Reopened department's galleries feature 12,000 objects that aim to promote 'mutual understanding and education'
  Thousands of Islamic artefacts have gone on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photograph: Tim Knox for the Guardian

The timing could hardly be more symbolic. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Islamic department closed in 2003, as war loomed with Iraq. Now, on 1 November, just over a decade after 9/11, the department reopens in a grandiose suite of new galleries displaying 12,000 objects in 19,000 square feet of space.

Here are priceless Persian carpets, delicate Iznik ceramics, exquisite Mughal miniatures, and a 14th-century tiled prayer niche from medieval Isfahan inscribed with verses from the Qur'an. There is an astrolabe, dated 1291, made by a Rasulid prince from modern Yemen; and a voluptuous Safavid tile panel from 17th-century Iran, showing a sexily deshabillé courtesan desporting herself in a garden, with a be-ruffed European merchant kneeling at her feet.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Macedonia's Riches Before Alexander

A terra cotta figure from the Louvre's collection depicts a dancer wearing the Iranian headdress known as ''the Phrygian Bonnet.'' / RMN/H. Lewandowski

by  Souren Melikian , The New York Times

At distant intervals a major art show leads to a new understanding of events that changed the course of world history.

“In the Kingdom of Alexander the Great, Ancient Macedonia” on view at the Louvre Museum here does so through stunning visual evidence. Discovered mostly within the past four decades, it reveals “the other Greece” — one that does not fit the image cherished by the European cultivated elites since Renaissance times.

Gone is the cliché of Alexander invading an unknown Middle East in retaliation for the “Median Wars” waged by the emperors Darius and Xerxes against Greece. Intercourse between Iran and Macedonia started long before, and it left an imprint on Macedonian art that has yet to be acknowledged.

Better still, the show demonstrates that the supposedly remote Macedonia isolated in the far north of the Hellenic world was influenced at an early date by lands very far to the east. The distant Mecenian civilization fascinated Macedonia, as witness the pottery excavated at Livadia near Aiane. Some two-handled vessels — say “kantharos” if you wish to sound sophisticated — have profiles that call for comparison with artifacts found in the heart of present-day Turkey where the Hittites laid the foundations of one of their Indo-European cultures in the early second millennium B.C.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Christie's Middle East sale hopes to encourage a new, younger group of buyers

A slow exposure picture shows a woman passing the artwork 'The Last Supper I' by Iranian artist Mehrdad Mohebali during Christie's exhibition held at Jumairah Emirates Twin Towers in Gulf Emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Christie's eleventh auction will take place on 25 and 26 October 2011, presenting Modern and Contemporary Arab Art as well as Iranian and Turkish Arts. The auction will also present US movie star Elizabeth Taylor's legendary jewels. EPA/ALI HAIDER.

DUBAI.- The new sale format to be introduced to Christie's Middle East sales this October includes works by Sohrab Sepehri, Farhad Moshiri, Louay Kayyali, Paul Guiragossian, Mahmoud Said and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi alongside works, often by these same artists, estimated from $2,000 in the new part II sale. Together, the sales to be held on October 25th and 26th comprising 46 lots in part I and 155 lots in part II, are expected to realize between $6.5 and $9 million. It is anticipated that the new part II sale will encourage a new, younger group of buyers to Christie‟s, a reflection of the continuing maturity of the market in the region and the attraction of works by artists from the Middle East and Turkey to an ever increasing group of international buyers.

The Graphics of Revolution and War: Iranian Poster Arts

by Special Collections Research Center, The University of Chicago

Posters are a powerful medium to convey ideological messages and stir viewers to sympathy and action. Mass-produced and widely distributed, they reach a large audience with their striking design and dramatic, often blunt, messages.

A newly launched Library Web exhibit, The Graphics of Revolution and War: Iranian Poster Arts, explores how posters were used for mobilization and communication during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). This permanent online exhibit was collaboratively produced in conjunction with a loan exhibition of the University of Chicago’s posters on display at the Indiana University Art Museum from October 15 to December 18, 2011.  The exhibition was guest curated by Professor Christiane Gruber, University of Michigan, and her doctoral student Elizabeth Rauh. The website was produced and designed by Elisabeth M. Long, co-director of the University of Chicago’s Digital Library Development Center, and Brad Busenius, web and graphic design specialist.
The posters in the exhibition were selected from the Library’s Middle East Poster Collection. The Guide to the Middle Eastern Posters Collection 1970s-1990s includes links to digital images of all of the Iranian posters in the collection.

Montage of Children’s Drawings, ca.1980, Middle Eastern Posters Collection, Box 1, Poster 1, Special Collections Research Center, Image courtesy of The University of Chicago Library

Monday, 24 October 2011

British Museum announces new funding to collect contemporary Middle Eastern Art

The British Museum has been collecting modern and contemporary art from the Middle East since the 1980s. To date, this collection contains works by over 200 established and emerging artists from across the region, many of which featured in the influential exhibition Word into Art in 2006 (which travelled to Dubai in 2008).

The Museum has been a pioneer in the acquisition of this material and now, in its fourth decade of collecting, houses the pre-eminent collection of art from this region in the UK.  Modern artworks in the British Museum collection are principally works on paper, and are selected to complement the historical collections because they ‘speak of their time’. The collection of modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art, therefore, represents social and historical realities of the modern Middle East. 

The Museum has been fortunate in its efforts to develop and expand this collection with assistance from generous individuals and foundations. Most recently, in early 2011, Maryam and Edward Eisler provided significant funding to help us expand our activities in this area. This adds to the generosity of the Contemporary and Modern Middle Eastern Art (CaMMEA) acquisition group, which was formed in 2009. Since its inception, this group of individuals has established an annual fund which has allowed the Museum to acquire modern and contemporary artworks by more than 50 artists from the Middle Eastern region as a whole, while some members of the group have also chosen to make additional and substantial anonymous donations. This funding allows the Museum to respond quickly to the contemporary art market and to be strategic in its collecting policy.

Cairo Street Art

Damascus-based photojournalist John Wreford gives an account of the street art and graffiti that has flourished throughout Cairo since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution on January 25th 2011.

"At first, it was just slogans calling for the fall of Mubarak's regime scrawled on walls, but then it developed into elaborate murals depicting the victory of the revolution and politically charged creations reflecting a new found freedom of expression," he says.

 Powerful image near the faculty of arts in Zamalek. Image courtesy of John Wreford

 Wall mural in upscale neighbourhood of Zamalek show’s the breaking of chains and the use of social networking sites in the success of the January 25th revolution. Image courtesy of John Wreford

 Weighing the balance for the revolution. Image courtesy of John Wreford

 The victory sign painted on a street near Tahrir Square in Downtown Cairo. Image courtesy of John Wreford

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Middle Eastern Artists Eye Environmental Threats

Poster for the Tehran Monoxide Project.
With water shortages and air pollution posing increasingly grave threats to the Middle East, artists in the region are working to make environmental issues more visible, both at home and in international forums, including Iraq's first pavilion since 1976 at the Venice Biennale.

In Iran, where protesters have been harshly repressed and even reportedly tortured for demanding protection for the dying Lake Urmia, artists are also making bold statements against other types of environmental degradation, Tafline Laylin wrote recently for the Mideast environmental news site Green Prophet.

Iranian Artists Tackle Deforestation, Pollution

In the city of Kerman, a group of Iranian artists used chunks of wood to block a city street as a way of protesting against deforestation. In smoggy Tehran, one of the world's most polluted cities, other artists have put together the Tehran Monoxide Project, an exhibit of mixed-media works at a local school reflecting their concern about children's health in a place where "the city and its pollution are inseparable."

Iraqi Artists Focus On Water

The six Iraqi artists from two different generations chosen for the country's Venice Biennale pavilion have meanwhile focused on something they see as more of an emergency situation than civil war or terrorism: lack of water. Azad Nanakeli's haunting installation "AU," for example, reflects the artist's "return[ing] to his Kurdish home Erbil to find all of the wells contaminated with waste and chemicals," Laylin wrote in a separate Green Prophet piece.

The theme for the Iraqi pavilion, titled "Wounded Water," was chosen to draw attention to a critical resource "now in crisis due to diversion, contamination, and neglect," curator Rijin Sahakian wrote in the exhibition's catalog. "Its scarcity has caused the endangerment, and in some cases the extinction, of various peoples, animal and plant species... [but] both artists and scientists have found new means of adaptation to new environmental circumstances." 


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Sohrab's Wars

The power of the individual voice.
by Aria Fani

Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami, professor of Middle Eastern studies at New York University, is an expert on contemporary Persian fiction. Sohrab's Wars: Counter-Discourses of Contemporary Persian Fiction (Mazda Publishers), which he selected and translated with Pari Shirazi, is an exciting collection of short stories and a film script originally written in Persian. Sohrab's Wars fills two important gaps: it addresses the relative dearth of Persian fiction in translation and sheds light on a largely overlooked body of work that deals with the discourse of war in Iran and Afghanistan. Khorrami's endeavor contributes to a deeper understanding of postwar societies at large while it also challenges the strict monopoly that state authorities attempt to exercise over the publication and interpretation of alternative narratives.

Sohrab's Wars highlights the power of storytelling as a social act that stands against the grand narrative of the state, which attempts to unify and mobilize the masses behind a particular ideology and agenda. The single divine truth promoted by the power discourse is decomposed into myriad truths -- each story conveys its own personal identity and in the eyes of the reader each perspective carries equal gravity. Thus the history is replaced with histories.

In the past three decades, efforts to overemphasize politicized religiosity while annihilating Iran's literary and cultural identity have not been limited to intellectual censorship. Even historic statues that evoke the figures and tales of Persian mythology have been vandalized or entirely destroyed. It is against this backdrop that the significance of Sohrab's Wars needs to be understood. The stories in this collection constantly evoke and reference classical Persian literature to reflect on Iran's modern history, in particular the tales of the Shahnameh, which have often been used as a means to challenge and reject the forced loss of identity.

Khorrami writes, "After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Islamic Republic, in addition to its efforts to eradicate voices of the Other, began producing narratives which were intended to define the past and the current history in the image of the new discourse in power." A new generation of Iranian writers, with a personalized definition of history, has connected past and present in their narratives. Using classical Persian tales that still resonate meaningfully with Iranians, they make sense of present events. The language of classical tales may not be entirely accessible to many Iranians today, but their sociocultural relevance, as demonstrated by these stories, is timeless.

One such example in which personal history confronts the state-authorized version is Marjan Riahi's "Eight-thirty in the Morning," featured here. In this short story about isolation and personal autonomy, the brevity of each sentence conveys a sense of disconnection from the world, a narrative in fragments, a life torn by war. Farzaneh, like thousands of other women during the interminable conflict with Iraq, anticipates the arrival of her fiancé. Unlike conventional war narratives, Riahi's brief tale does not delve into concepts of heroism and martyrdom. In Farzaneh's world, soldiers are not holy warriors; they are simply men in boots. War is not about victory and defeat determined on the fronts of right and wrong; it is a "red stain" on a letter.

The story does not concern itself with the portrayal of war by the state authority. The grand narrative is minimized to the radio program and televised footages. Farzaneh is increasingly isolated. She is imprisoned in her house, increasingly alien to the outside world. But out of this isolation, a personalized narrative is born, one that concerns itself with the grievances of Farzaneh, one that views war through her lens, through her experiences.

Eight-thirty in the Morning
Marjan Riahi

I was seventeen. I stood in the middle of the courtyard, on the edge of the small pool. My cousin came in. I had no time to reach for my chador. The sleeves of my flower-patterned dress were short. I blushed. He turned his face away. It was the first time he was returning from the war.1 Everybody was whispering behind our backs. My cousin had said, Engagement means mahramiat.2 He had said that he wanted to be able to sit somewhere with me and talk.

We sat in the park. It was early evening. He spoke to me: "Farzaneh!"

I said: "Hmm!"

He said: "Don't say, 'Hmm'; say something beautiful."

I said: "Hello."

He laughed. He recited a poem. He liked poetry. I didn't know any poems. He said, "What do you like"?

I said: "Eight-thirty in the morning."

He said: "Why?"

I said, "At this hour everything is alive." I said, "Every day, I ask the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom, but then I go to the courtyard, among the flowers. When the Vice Principal sees me, I say I've lost my keys."

He said: "How long will you tell lies?"

I said: "Forever."

He said: "Then what about the Vice Principal?"

I said: "Some days we look for the keys together."

I looked at him. The sun went down. Then he went back to war. Every day I went to school. I kept telling myself, "One of these days, school will end!" I said to myself, "To hell with school!"

He was at war, his footprints in the park and the trace of his eyes on the Si-o Seh Pol.3 I remembered every word he had said. Every day I repeated them so I wouldn't forget. Once he called. I said, "Hello", but we were cut off. Once he sent a letter. There was a red stain on the letter. Mother said: "It is blood; go clean your hand."

I kissed the letter.

I looked in the mirror; I was seventeen. The white dress was becoming to my skin. Mother was buying me my trousseau. Everything was ready, to be with him. He came back from the war. Unannounced. Suddenly. I came back from school. There was a pair of boots behind the hall door. He had left with two of his friends. He had come back alone. He looked out of it. At eight-thirty in the morning, near the Zayandeh Rud4 he seemed sharp. Coffins were passing over the bridge, and he was crying. His crying saddened me.

He told me: "I am sorry."

I said: "Why?"

He said: "I am making you sad."

I said: "No."

I was lying. His eyes were puffy. His beard was untrimmed and the collar of his shirt was perfectly clean.

He said: "How do I look?"

I said: "You look like eight-thirty in the morning."

He laughed. Then he went back to war. The radio was talking about the war. Whatever he said I accepted. But I wanted to tell him not to go to war. I was talking along the Zayandeh Rud and he was walking, perhaps, along the Karkheh.5 In the evening on television they showed footage of the war. I was looking for him. Everybody had a gun but nobody was him. Aunt said that last time she had boiled his clothes. Insects were everywhere inside them. I said, "Certainly he has stayed among the bullets for a long time."

Then everything collapses. I didn't go to school either. People were not in the city. We were in the basement at Aunt's. The ground was shaking. The windows were jingling. His letter was not coming. He didn't call either. Every time a missile hit, Mother fainted. Cousins screamed. I was afraid. But I was happy. Now I had something to tell him. In the mornings, at eight-thirty, Mother said, "Don't leave the basement." Aunt said, "Don't look at the garden from behind the glass." Cousin said, "If it breaks, it will fall in your eyes." I sighed.

We stayed in the basement for a few weeks. We were gradually forgetting there was a Zayandeh Rud outside. Then someone rang the doorbell. He said something. Mother sat down. Aunt sat down. Whoever was standing sat down. I stumbled. We waited for him. Many people were waiting. And they came, being carried on the shoulders. Nobody's shoulders were empty.

In the morning, at eight-thirty, they buried him.
1. The Iran-Iraq War (1980-88).
2. Mahramiat (or, being mahram) is a religious term. According to a traditional interpretation of Islamic law, individuals of the opposite sex may see and interact with each other only when they are mahram. Other than members of one's immediate family, they may become mahram to each other only through marriage or after conducting specific religious ceremonies.
3. A historic bridge in Isfahan.
4. The river that runs through Isfahan.
5. A river in southern Iran.

Via Tehran Bureau

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Writing on the Wall

  by Aria Fani 
step gently
a nation is 

The construction of the Israeli barrier that isolates the West Bank from the outside world began almost a decade ago. It is now 450 miles long -- the distance from San Diego to San Francisco -- and stands 26 feet tall, more than twice as high as the Berlin Wall. It has been called both the anti-terrorist fence and the racial separation wall. No words come to mind, however, as you walk on the streets of Bethlehem, Palestine. You do not need to delve deep; the wall's impact is visible in people's faces, faces that still smile at you as they pass by and go on with their lives.

Contemplating the soul-numbing injustices with which these people live, an urge to commit your life to the cause of Palestinian independence dominates you. But most likely you will move on too. It is only the Wall that stays -- it has uprooted olive trees, thwarted access to health care, cut through farmlands and villages, separated brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren. It has been built to stay, to rise and stand tall, to cast its shadow on our humanity. Ironically, it is also on the streets of Bethlehem where a more just world is most imaginable. It is in Palestine that your heart dares to dream of peace, not in the long corridors of the United Nations headquarters where "peace" is a resolution yet to be passed.

The streets of Palestine are where free-spirited activists and artists have come to change the face of apartheid, to add the bright colors of their vision to the monochrome gray of the Wall. Through graffiti art and poetry, Palestine now owns the longest "living canvas of resistance and solidarity." The Persian-language verse of Ahmad Shamlu is found alongside Mahmoud Darwish's poignant poems in Arabic. "Nations United" written in English is right next to "This wall will fall, and I will return to claim my piece," in Spanish. Story after story of suffering is present, displaying the profound universality of the human condition. From a tombstone of the world imagined by the politics of "separate but equal," the Wall has been turned into a monument that summons, in every one of us, a sense of affinity and shared vulnerability, a monument that insists on the presence of lost lives.

Paul Ricoeur, the French philosopher, writes, "From the suffering Other, there comes a giving that is no longer drawn from the power of acting and existing, but precisely from weakness itself. What the suffering Other gives to he or she who shares this suffering is precisely the knowledge of shared vulnerability and the experience of the spontaneous benevolence required to bear that knowledge." The following selection includes work by Darwish, Palestine's most celebrated poet, as well as graffiti art and writing captured on the Wall. What do these latter expressions add to the discourse of Palestinian rights and suffering? They beautify a despised structure that some locals would prefer be left in its naked, repressive form. Where formal texts often distance us from the Palestinians' predicament and Israel's policies, graffiti art speaks to us with the same warmth and intensity one encounters in conversation with people on the streets of Hebron, Bethlehem, and Ramallah. Art may not change the reality on the ground in Palestine, but it is potent enough to turn an inhuman barrier into a living narrative that mirrors the best of a nation that still dares to dream.

Selections from Mahmoud Darwish

Translated by Fady Joudah

The soldiers measure the distance between being and nonbeing
with a tank's scope...
Siege is the waiting
the waiting on a ladder leaning amid the storm
(to poetry:) besiege your siege
Do we harm anyone? Do we harm any
country, if we were stuck, even if from a distance,
just once, with the drizzle of joy?

We store out sorrows in our jars, lest the soldiers see them and celebrate the siege...
In Damascus:
the traveler sings to himself:
I return from Syria
neither alive
nor dead
but as clouds
that ease the butterfly's burden
from my fugitive soul
Selections from the Wall

For he himself is our

who has made the two one and
has destroyed
the barrier
the dividing Wall
of hostility
-- Ephesians 2:14

[written for the oppressor]
The Wall is in your head
to exist
is to resist
-- Zapatista Army, Mexico

our revenge
will be the laughter
of our children
-- Bobby Sands, Northern Ireland

an eye
for an eye
leaves the
whole world

a country is not
what it does
but also what
it tolerates
you look at me
and I look at you
what is this
teaching our children?

as if
you will
for ever
If I sit silently
I have sinned
-- Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran

I have come to your land 
and I have recognized
shades of my own
my land was once
one where some people
imagined that they could build
their security on the insecurity of others
-- Faris Esack, South Africa

let never-smiling people rise 
let them rise
-- Ahmad Shamlu

The only peace Israel wants 
Is a piece of my land

Berlin 89 
Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1941 in al-Birweh, Palestine. During the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, his village was destroyed and his family fled to Lebanon. Darwish faced house arrest and imprisonment for his political activism and for publicly reading his poetry. He lived in exile for 26 years, between Beirut and Paris, until his return to Israel in 1996. Approximately 30 collections of his poetry and prose have been published, which have been translated into more than 22 languages. Darwish died in 2008 in Houston, Texas. (Retrieved from

Further reading:
Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine (Lawrence Hill Books, 2011), by William Parry. A stunning book of photographs that captures the impact of the apartheid wall on Palestinians.
The Butterfly's Burden (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), by Mahmoud Darwish, trans. Fady Joudah. A bilingual collection of the work of Palestine's national poet.
Banksy. Website of the British graffiti artist and political activist whose work has appeared on the streets of the world's slums and war-torn cities.

Via Tehran Bureau