Showing for Palestinian solidarity
Mahdi Baraghithi has draped a shawl reminiscent of traditional Palestinian embroidery over his shoulders, black with brightly coloured flowers. The motif is immediately recognisable in his collages, displayed in ornate gold frames on the walls of Birzeit University, north of Ramallah in the West Bank.
His artwork is part of the Qalandiya International art exhibitions that open in various towns in Palestine in October. The culture and art festival is named after the Israeli Qalandiya checkpoint, the largest in the West Bank. The frames are a bit tacky, Baraghithi admits, but he adds that many Palestinian refugees have similar frames on their walls, "with paintings of Jerusalem and the other lost cities of Palestine" – paintings of places people yearn for, he says and "that are out of reach."
Lydda, the lost city
Mahdi Baraghithi's family are refugees from Lydda, a city in Israel officially named Lod. Israeli troops captured the town in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, killed hundreds of Palestinians and ousted the Arab population. Lydda stands for the trauma of the Nakba, as Palestinians call the 1948 events. Part of the Birzeit exhibition is dedicated to this city: "Lydda – A Garden Dis-remembered."
A third-generation refugee, the 27-year-old artist has never set foot in Lydda. He lives in Ramallah and it is difficult for a resident of the Israeli-occupied West Bank to get permission to cross the border to Israel. Baraghithi is not even trying to obtain one. He doesn't want to lose his idealised perception of the lost city by confronting it with reality. For years, he has been collecting everything he could find on Lydda's past and present: family photos, newspaper clippings and social media posts.
In his collages, he adds Palestinian symbols like the key, which stands for the exiles' return to their homes, photos of motorcycles, bulldozers, men in macho poses. Their faces are hidden by flowers. Mahdi Baraghithi presents Lydda as he imagines the city to be and he shows how not having a home has affected the Palestinian people; how society puts pressure on young men like himself to stand up as freedom fighters. "You have to liberate your country, that's what they teach us," he explains. "That makes for a lot of pressure."
Extending its scope in solidarity
Every two years since 2012, Palestinian museums and culture institutes organise and stage art exhibitions aimed at bringing culture to towns with large Palestinian populations. Throughout October this year, there will be shows and events in towns in the West Bank and Gaza, in cities in Israel with large Arab populations – and even in faraway New York, London and the German city of Dusseldorf.