“As an artist and a human being, I will always protect and support the powerless."
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most violent and divisive in modern history. Nowadays, there are too many conflicts in the news, so we don't hear about it that much, but there’s no doubt that the conflict has steadily remained active since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948. You just have to take a look at any related content and how people react to it to see how divisive and intense the discussions about the conflict are, and then imagine that multiplied many, many times to at least picture what it's like to live it every day. Although I don't have any personal ties to either side of the conflict, I have heard about it all my life, and I find it interesting because it has led to so many different and complex perspectives.
So, when I look at the comments of people on the internet (leaving hateful comments aside), giving what they claim is an obvious solution to a crisis they don’t really know about first-hand, it makes me wonder how much of it has always been biased by either party. In my opinion, it only generates more hate and extremist opinions. In a video by CrashCourse (a digital platform that provides short yet informative courses on diverse subjects) that seeks to explain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to beginners, we learn that the heart of the conflict isn't simply a religious matter. But most importantly, the video explains that one of the main issues (the reason why it’s taken all this time and lives to not even get close to solving it) is that both sides have failed to see the legitimacy of each other's narrative.
Hand in Hand
What if they put themselves in the other's shoes to try to understand their position? That’s the idea behind several of Israeli artist Shay Arick’s projects. One of the things I was very interested to find about him is how a conflict he’s experienced throughout his life has shaped him as a person and as an artist. This is because, as external observers, we tend to focus only on mainstream news or the historical, social, and political facts rather than how people experience it on a daily basis.
“I believe that living in the shadow of such a long violent conflict affects the brain, blackens the soul, and blinds the senses.”
Me-Him, Diyaa Abdul Halim Talah-Mah
Hand in Hand
In an interview with him, he explained to me that it’s impossible not to be shaped both as a person and an artist by such a violent conflict, but also that, for him and many others, it has made him more aware of the suffering of others. He explains that he doesn’t consider himself a political artist, but there’s no doubt that artists put their experiences in their work, and because the conflict is so close to him, the horrors that people have been living for decades are in one way or another in basically all aspects of his life. For him, a vital thing to understand the magnitude of the conflict he was born into and that doesn’t really seem to be ending soon, was to put himself in the position of the other and try to understand where this person was coming from, which also helped him understand himself better.
“I am very interested in understanding people’s acts and motives in connection with violence.”
Hand in Hand
So, if art is a discipline that captures and conveys the emotions and experiences of its creators, what role could art play in such a difficult subject? We’re constantly told that art is the weapon we should all use to promote and create peace. With that in mind, I was really interested in knowing what Shay’s opinion on this statement was. I really wanted to see if he actually thought that art like his, with which he clearly wants viewers to see both sides of the conflict, could actually make people feel more empathy towards the suffering of others. For him, it’s clear that “art cannot cure cancer,” and in a conflict so long and so intense as this one, we need effective tools and approaches, not just art. Nonetheless, it’s also true that art can touch us and reach our most emotional core, and perhaps this could be a way to raise more awareness towards social injustices and become a bridge of communication that could help change people’s perspective.
“This year, Israel is about to celebrate 70 years of independence. It marks 70 years of independence for us, but 70 years to the Nakba (disaster in Arabic) of the Palestinians, the day they lost their land. It marks seventy years of growing hostility between the two nations, where each generation seems to hate more than the generation before it.”
Hand in Hand
Me-Him, Tamer Faraj Samour
As you might have seen so far, most of his works focus on putting himself, an Israeli citizen, in the place of the other in an attempt to try to understand and answer some of the questions that have haunted him all his life. In his own words, “what makes a soldier shoot an unarmed Palestinian? How does a kid decide to confront the oppressor and throw a stone at them? Could my hand clasp the stone in the same way?” With this in mind, in his series Me-Him, he wears paper masks of Palestinian people killed by the Israeli Defense Forces wearing the clothes they were wearing in family photos. By cutting holes for the eyes, he uses his own eyes to look at the viewer directly and tell the story of the person who was killed.
“As an Israeli, I feel responsible for each killing the Israeli Army commits.”
Me-Him, Hamza Abu Al Haija
In Hand in Hand, he explores a similar idea, by replacing his hand with photos of Palestinian hands throwing stones at the IDF. In that way, his Israeli hand becomes the source of the violent act. This is because Arick believes that most of these confrontations come from aggressive provocation by the IDF that only increases the hostility and violent response of the Palestinians. This is what he answered after I asked him if he stood for one particular side, to which he replied that, of course, he supported one side: the side of the powerless (which exist on both sides, although it’s evident that one has way more power and resources than the other).
“As an artist and a human being, I will always protect and support the powerless. We all should take a stand.”
Shay Arick is now working on an installation based on the biblical story of David and Goliath. His main interest is to analyze where violence comes from, and how aggression and PTSD can have such a big impact on everyone involved. You can get a look at his project below, or go to his official website for more of his works.
Don’t leave without taking a look at the work of these photographers: