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Barefoot Artists in Al Aqaba, Palestine, 2015 Barefoot Artists in Al Aqaba, Palestine, 2015
The Al Aqaba mural: Once upon a time, there was the land of Palestine.

The Al Aqaba mural: Once upon a time, there was the land of Palestine.

Earlier this year, Barefoot Artists visited Al-Aqaba, a tiny village under the constant threat of being demolished. During the visit, Lily Yeh designed the mural entitled, Once Upon A Time, There Was The Land of Palestine, honoring the people’s deep emotion of trauma and loss. Rob Shetterly painted the figures of two children, a boy and a girl, at the suggestion of Haj Sami Sadiq, the Mayor of Al Aqaba, as the symbol of their future.

When he was 17, Haj Sami was severely wounded by three bullets from the Israeli army, during its military exercise outside of the village. One bullet is still lodged near his heart, too dangerous to be removed. The wounds paralyzed the lower part of his body and confined him to a wheel chair. Undaunted, and ever more determined, despite the daily pain he suffers, Haj Sami has been leading his people in their struggle against brutal occupation and injustice.

We painted the mural to honor the courage of Haj Sami and all of the villagers in their pursuit for peace, dignity, and a future for their children through peaceful means of education, art, entrepreneurial effort, and construction.

We are deeply grateful to Majdi Shella, our program coordinator. His knowledge, dedication, and social network made all these projects possible.

Top level: Pam, Ben, Dud, Majdi. Lower level: Rob & Ariel.

Top level: Pam, Ben, Dud, Majdi. Lower level: Rob & Ariel.

 

Lily and Ayat

Lily and Ayat

Moved by the resourcefulness and fortitude of Haj Sami, Rob Shetterly painted his portrait.

Moved by the resourcefulness and fortitude of Haj Sami,
Rob Shetterly painted his portrait.

Mayor Haj Sami with his community at the completion of the mural.

Mayor Haj Sami with his community at the completion of the mural.

What we have painted is an attempt to regain dignity and historical truth. What any oppressed people do. No one was injured in the painting of the mural, no homes destroyed, no olive trees bulldozed, no checkpoints erected, no settlements built, no water stolen, no separation wall built. 

 

The keffiyeh over the land is the rejection of apartheid. A statement of justice and defiance.

 

– Rob Shetterly

 


 

Learn more about Barefoot Artists’ projects in Al Aqaba, Palestine.

The Resistance Fighter, Mountain of Fire The Resistance Fighter, Mountain of Fire

In the heart of the Old City is an ample square surrounded by two- and three-story houses on four sides with a circular platform in the center. All of the structures – houses, the platform, and roads were built with stones. Numerous residents and visitors pass daily through the square. It has been used for public gatherings, children’s play, passageway, and parking.

(Left) A street in the old city, (Right) The main wall in the square containing in the lower portion memorials of people who were killed during the 2nd intifada and two plastered areas

(Left) A street in the old city, (Right) The main wall in the square containing in the lower portion memorials of people who were killed during the 2nd intifada and two plastered areas

In 2014, our team was invited to design something for the small plastered area on the main wall of the square. Responding to the sentiment of the residents, team member Rob Shetterly (Americans Who Tell the Truth) created the fiery image of the “Resistance Fighter.” Embodying determination and strength, the image was immediately embraced by the community as a symbol of the spirit of its people.

Rob (left) and Jannat (right) working on the portrait mural, 2014

Rob (left) and Jannat (right) working on the portrait mural, 2014

Barefoot Artists returned in the spring of 2015, bringing a dedicated, six-member team – Rob Shetterly, Dud Hendrick (Veterans for Peace), Pamela Sukham (artist), Ben Marlett (photo/film), Ariel Bleth (writer), and Lily Yeh (artist).

Revisiting the square in Old Town Nablus, we found that the image was pockmarked by many bullet holes. Restoring it in good speed, Rob and the team brought back the vitality and determination of the figure.

The Resistance Fighter with the script, Mountain of Fire

The Resistance Fighter with the script, Mountain of Fire

 

Learn more on our Nablus, Palestine project page.

 

Transforming the Nablus Old City Square Transforming the Nablus Old City Square

While working on the murals, our team also conducted workshops for children. Creativity generates excitement. Happy children bring joy to adults. Images of flags, flowers, victory signs, and geometric patterns began to appear on paper. Why not transfer some of the patterns onto the walls to beautify the public space?

Lily (left) and Pam (right) conducting workshops for children in the square.

Lily (left) and Pam (right) conducting workshops for children in the square.

It is taboo to paint on stones, so we found new surfaces; the grey metal doors and the entryways to homes and stores. We cleaned the thick dust and rust off of many of the doors, and started painting.

Art-making draws people like a magnet. Soon, we were surrounded by children who wanted to participate. Painting with bright colors is an act hard to resist. Ayman, a tall and lanky young man of 20, quietly stepped in to help us. He is a professional painter; his quiet confidence calmed the chaotic excitement of the children. For two days, Meesha, 32, who loves motorcycles and keeps a store for them on the square, watched from the side as we painted. On the third day, he could not resist anymore. He took a brush and started painting. Then he could not stop. He painted for seven hours on that day!

In three days, the art making by the joined forces of children, young adults from the community, and our team, transformed the stern stone square into a space of vibrancy and charm. More importantly, people experienced the joy of working together and the power of art in turning darkness into beauty and delight.

For me, it’s not only fun painting, but one put something from the heart and soul into the place and to the community which bring great feelings of giving and belonging. Beside, seeing the beautiful and creative transformation and being part of the process are very inspiring.  

 

– Ayat Omran, volunteer, poet

nablus-blue-doors

nablus-door-squarenablus-square

Learn more on our Nablus, Palestine project page.

The Rising Resistance Fighter The Rising Resistance Fighter

During our spring 2015 visit, the community requested another, larger mural on the main wall of the square. In response, Rob and the team created this spirited figure, covered partially in a kaffiyeh (symbol of unity), rising from the old city proudly holding the national flag that represents the land and people of Palestine. It immediately became an iconic image and spread like wild fire on social media.

It reminds us of the words of Mahmud Darwish, the pre-eminent Palestinian poet:

And they searched his chest

But could only find his heart

And they searched his heart

And could only find his people.

(Left) Robert Shetterly standing in front of the mural, (Right) Our program coordinator Majdi Shella, our team, and volunteers Ayat and Ghadeer

(Left) Robert Shetterly standing in front of the mural, (Right) Our program coordinator Majdi Shella, our team, and volunteers Ayat and Ghadeer

 

nablus-resist-to-exist

Learn more on our Nablus, Palestine project page.

Barefoot Artists in Al Aqaba, Palestine, 2014 Barefoot Artists in Al Aqaba, Palestine, 2014

On April 30th 2014, the Barefoot Artists team visited Al Aqaba, a small West Bank village located in the Jordan Valley. The village is at a watershed moment.

Al Aqaba kindergarten class with Barefoot Artists volunteers.

Al Aqaba kindergarten class with Barefoot Artists volunteers.

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Barefoot Artists in Al Aqaba, Palestine, 2011 Barefoot Artists in Al Aqaba, Palestine, 2011

Visiting Palestine for the first time in 2011, I travelled to the West End to work at the Balata Refugee Camp. It was built adjacent to the city of Nablus, where the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) sponsors a school for 1,200 girls, from kindergarten to high school. There, I had the privilege to conduct workshops for some young teens.

I asked the students to draw what was on their minds. Repeatedly, the flag of Palestine, in green, white, red, and black, would appear along with the map of Palestine. Not the map of Palestine as it is currently defined, but as it was before the 1948 Palestinian exodus. The momentous event is termed Nakba, “catastrophy,” when over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes due to armed conflicts and the hostile takeover. The conflict between the occupying force and the resistance still continues today. It results in wanton destruction with numerous people dead or incarcerated.

palestine-map

During our residencies in the West Bank in 2014 and 2015, Barefoot Artists members participated in the celebration of Prisoners Day in Nablus. Thousands of children and families gathered in the big park in Nablus to show solidarity with their loved ones, including children who were locked away in Israeli prisons. We painted the hands and faces of hundreds of children. Although many asked for the images of flowers and hearts, almost every child wanted a flag and or a map.

Flags and maps are profound images to the Palestinian people who have lost their land, homes, communities, and economic means. When their history and very identity have been threatened under the oppressive occupation, they see these images as symbols for their survival. They were once free people, from a land of bounty. Although they have lost most of their land, they must not lose their memory, spirit, and hope.

 


 

Learn more about Barefoot Artists’ projects in Al Aqaba, Palestine.

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