A PALESTINIAN ARTIST SHOWS SOLIDARITY FOR BLM— THE WORLD IS WATCHING
By Vincent Lyn
Since the senseless and brutal killing of George Floyd perpetrated by a Minneapolis police officer. People around the world have been moved by the death of Floyd and the injustice it represents. One such artist is Lina Abojaradeh, 26, a Palestinian living in Jordan. I came across her recent artwork in an article on social media and it draws parallels between the social injustice that African Americans and Native Americans have faced for centuries and still face in the United States with the experience of Palestinians in Palestine. I was very curious what drives and inspires a young Palestinian artist living in Jordan some 6,000 miles away from America to connect with Black Lives Matter? So I decided to contact her and speaking with her was immediately struck by her passion for life and her intensity with deep emboldened messages in her ‘art for causes’.
Lina was born in Amman, Jordan and as a young girl her family moved to Arizona. She has always been aware of racism and seeing what happened to George Floyd resonated because of seeing Palestinian children oppressed in the same exact way. But it wasn’t until 9–11 happened that it struck a chord, having witnessed her Mother being constantly harassed and heckled for wearing a hijab. For Lina growing up as a young girl in Arizona it was a tough time and this unique shift from the Middle East to America, she at first felt embarrassed of her own identity and culture. It wasn’t until her family returned to Jordan that she started to realize how important her own history and culture was. As a young teenager art opened her eyes to this world and initially it became a way of not only self-expression but also therapy. Eventually graduating from the University of Jordan in architecture.
“Everything I know about art is pretty much self-taught. I am very passionate about the power of art in inspiring change, especially when it comes to a Free Palestine.”
Her two biggest inspirations was first seeing a painting by Tamam al Akhal the wife of renowned Palestinian artist from Yaffa, Ismael Shammout who was born in 1930 in Lydda. On July 12, 1948, he and his family were amongst 25,000 residents of Lydda expelled from their homes by Israeli occupation. The Shammout family moved to the Gaza refugee camp of Khan-Younnes. In 1950 Shammout went to Cairo and enrolled in the College of Fine Arts. After returning to Gaza in 1953, he held his first exhibition, which was a success.
Shammout and Palestinian artist Tamam al Akhal participated in the Palestine Exhibition of 1954 in Cairo. The exhibition was inaugurated by then Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nassar. Later in 1954, he moved to Italy and enrolled at the Academia De Belle Arti in Rome. He married Akhal in 1959. Their work has been exhibited in several countries.
Shammout became a part of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the Director of Arts and National Culture in 1965. He also held the position of Secretary General of the Union of Palestinian Artists. He became Secretary General of the Union of Arab artists in 1969. In 1992 he and his wife, al Akhal, moved to Germany due to the Gulf War. After Germany, they settled in Jordan. He and Al Akhal, returned to Lydda in 1997, facing the reality that their hometown was now part of Israel. He died on July 1, 2006 at the age of seventy-six. Tammam al Akhal a very famous and prolific artist in her own right has exhibited her works all over the world including Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, Jordan, the United States, Kuwait, England, China, Morocco, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Vienna. Lina was very fortunate to see one of Akhal exhibits in Jordan.
Asking her what her connection to Black Lives Matter and what inspired her to draw the art of George Floyd:
“It reminded me of a lot of the scenes showing how Palestinians are treated in occupied Palestine,” she tells ‘The National’ of the video showing Floyd unable to breathe as a police officer presses down on his neck. “It made me think of the connection of a black American living in the United States and a Palestinian.” For Abojaradeh, these injustices are both rooted in white supremacy and colonialism.
“I was heartbroken to see the video of George Floyd pleading for his life as a police officer (someone who is meant to protect, rather than kill) pressed down on his neck. He is the latest victim of police brutality against black people in America. In some cities in America, Police kill black people at higher rates than the normal U.S. murder rates.
It is no wonder that U.S. police are so brutal in their methods, when they have given and received training from the Israeli Occupation Forces who terrorize Palestinians everyday. As Palestinians, we should be the first to reject all types of oppression. Finally, I wanted to highlight violence against Native indigenous women, who have the highest female fatality rates in the U.S. when it comes to encounters with the police. It is all rooted in the settler colonialism mentality, and in the deeply systematized belief of the supremacy of one race over another. I wanted this drawing to convey power, and so the fisted hands symbolize our fight for every single lost live in this war against oppression.”
Abojaradeh created another piece to honor Floyd with an image of him wearing a mask with the words racism over it, comparing racism to a virus.
It was only five days after Floyd’s death that Eyad Hallaq, an unarmed autistic man on his way to his special needs school was shot by Israeli police. However, while positively received, Abojaradeh says the response to her work has not come without criticism, with some saying that drawing parallels diminishes the suffering of Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation. “Standing up for one type of injustice is also standing up for every type of injustice,” she says.
“Oppressive regimes built on racist ideologies such as Israel do not discriminate between child, elderly or mentally disabled. My heart goes out to Iyad Halaq, a 32 year old Palestinian with Autism who was shot 10 times on Saturday in occupied East Jerusalem. His crime? He was simply walking to his special needs school. He was simply born Palestinian. This shoot to kill policy is similar to that which is taking the lives of black people in the United States.” she says.
Racism is a systemic disease that permeates the entire world and we as a human race can do better. These issues need to be addressed, whether it be here in America or in the Middle East. This uncomfortable conversation must be spoken about and reflect on how it affects peoples and families lives and try to create positive changes for communities and countries. We have underlying faults in our system starting with basic education from an early age. Racism is not a trait we are born it is inherently taught to us from friends, family, media, government. Honest and pure education is paramount and above all good leadership.
In the past few weeks, people across the world have been protesting against police brutality and to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others who have lost their lives at the hands of police.
Artists like Lina Abojaredeh decided to show solidarity to the protestors and Black Lives Matter movement by painting these powerful works of art of George Floyd against the backdrop of their own personal tragedies. It is very apparent to me and hopefully everyone else these artists painted in solidarity “to call for peace and love” worldwide. The pictures instantly went viral on social media and Twitter users praised the artists for choosing to paint George Floyd.
George Floyd’s last words “I CAN’T BREATHE” have become a constant refrain at protests across the U.S., where many demonstrators see the killing of Floyd as emblematic of police brutality and systematic racism. At parallel rallies in over 50 countries in cities such as Paris, London, Berlin and elsewhere, protesters have expressed solidarity with victims of police brutality in America, while calling to racism in their own countries.
Lina Abojaradeh has been working with an NGO — Global Nomads and is presently working as an art teacher grades 1st— 8th graders for the Islamic Educational College. In August, 2020 she will start a Masters degree program in Global Affairs. Lina is a bright young women following her dreams and passion and certainly has an incredible future ahead of her. I wish her the best of luck. Never give up on your dreams and always do what makes you happy. Inshallah.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency