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Art of the Palestinian diaspora

April 26, 2011 12:40 P.M. (Updated: May 8, 2011 6:48 P.M.)
Meet Bissan Rafe Qasrawi, a painter, film-maker Dalia Odeh, Deema Dee, a poet, and musician Abboud Hashem. Each Palestinian, each living abroad, adapting life and art to new, alien environments they find themselves in not always by choice.

The lives and experiences of these men and women at once exemplify and reflect the refugee experience for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and at the same time show the diversity within that scattered community.

As the eyes of the world turn to the younger generations of the Middle East, as movements of youth gain ground against oppressive governments and policies, Palestinian exiles are speaking up and speaking out about a collective nostalgia, an ideal for the homeland, but at the same time an intense desire to change and fight the set of systems seen as enforcing their alienation.

Bissan is a 25-year-old visual artist and a pre-med student at the University of Houston, Texas. She moved to the United States from Jordan together with her family when she was 13, and has lived there ever since.

Were you born in Palestine?

Bissan: No, but my father was and so was everyone that came before him.

Her painting is oil on wood. She says it is a contour of Palestine’s map masked by the form of a woman. The head of the woman is strategically placed near Lake Tiberias, where Bissan recalls controversy over water usage and resource allocation. The head biting the woman’s shoulder represents a lover - Lebanon - the Gaza Strip is represented by a kiss between the strip and Egypt in what she describes as "a sarcastic display of betrayal."

Abboud 'Stormtrap' Hashem, was born in Austria but moved to Palestine as a child. He writes in a rhythm and blues style with elements of rap; a rhythmic poetry that is at once personal and a call to action.

I don’t represent a person or a people, I represent an idea

An idea called freedom

His most popular song calls listeners to action, repeating "What happened yesterday happens today, switch off your TV and grab a microphone."

What is the most vivid image you have of Palestine?

Abboud: My strongest memories are from my childhood there, which I’ve mostly spent outside in my neighborhood in Ramallah, which is full of valleys and trees. I also have a lot of high school memories from back then. Not to mention the days of the Second Intifada ... A part of my mind is still stuck in those days.

Dalia Odeh was born in Yemen, and grew up in Ethiopia, Yemen and Jordan, where she currently lives. As a child, she attended an international school in Ethiopia where she and her sister were treated with contempt by some of the students. But perhaps most importantly Dalia, as she tells it, had a "really hard time convincing other kids that Palestine exists."

She makes documentary films, the latest on the theme of honor, and how the idea of honor varies within Jordanian society, how the people understand the term differently and have a range of expectations.

The film was made in Amman, but "the same, if not worse, applies to women in Palestine," citing the double oppression of honor and occupation.

You have never been to Palestine, what words would you use to describe it?

Dalia: Palestine is my fantasy. A place so far out of reach, yet so close to my heart.

Deema Dee is a writer and performer who grew up between the United States and Jordan. She studied Journalism at Indiana University then moved between Ohio, Indiana and Los Angeles, eventually leaving the US for travel and work. She currently lives in Jordan where she is studying film making.

"For me, my background has made me aware first off of the importance of art and the responsibility of art. There are many artists out there who make art with no purpose. Just to make art. I am not saying that is wrong, people are free to do as they wish and who am I to judge really. And I also think that there is a difference between inspired and channeled art and making art for art's sake. One is filled with purpose and the other is not.

"So for me it's not that all my art has to be about Palestine per se but it must carry with it a piece of the purpose and responsibility I feel to contribute to making the world a better place - for lack of a better way to describe it."

Her poetry deals with a range of subjects, love, loss, identity, but comes back to the theme of Palestine often.

Can I talk about my homeland

Without talking about you

With your uzis

And stolen star of David

Ancient symbol of union

You used to divide us from ourselves

The poem "Untitled" by Deema, wonders:

Can I smell our nighttime jasmines?

And welcome our olive trees

Our walnuts

Carob pods

Apricots

And cherries

Without thinking of all the farms your have stolen

Fruit trees uprooted

And those set for barbed wire

And forbidden trespass

The diversity of the artists, the complexity of the work, and nonetheless a shared sentiment, a shared identity tied to a place with which each has a complex relationship forms the outlines of what it means to be a Palestinian displaced.

Interviews by Jason R. Forbus, which were part of a pilot research project as part of an MSc in Globalization at the University of Aberdeen.

Editing by Nora Parr in Bethlehem

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