The Portrait of Palestine exhibition was the latest project undertaken by TH Palestine Solidarity (THJFA and TH PSC) and proved an overwhelming success.
In March 2016 local cartoonist and illustrator Tim Sanders was crowd funded to participate in a two week event called the Freedom Theatre ride round the West Bank of Palestine. The annual event is organised by the Freedom Theatre, based in Jenin refugee camp, to bring together artists and activists from Palestine and abroad to visit Palestinian communities in villages, towns and refugee camps for mutual exchange through art, theatre and discussion. Members of THJFA accompanyed Tim on the ride.
On return TH Palestine Solidarity worked to create an exhibition of the distinctive illustrations that Tim created on his journey. Our intention was to use the exhibition to make the realities of life under military occupation in Palestine accessible to a wide range of people and to promote a wider understanding of the situation in Palestine.
Several local union branches and individuals helped fund Tim’s trip and we were also grateful to get sponsorship from Zaytoun in the form of £800 of Palestinian produce.
In order to raise money from this generous offer, stalls were booked in the Roman Road market on two occasions where we sold the produce. This, together with the income raised from a summer garden party where copies of Tim’s prints were auctioned raising a further £500, enabled us to raise the money needed to hire the gallery and fund the launch event as well as giving us the opportunity to reach out to a wide range of local people to inform them about Palestine, our group and the upcoming exhibition.
The exhibition was listed in the local press and online media as well as highlighted on PSC, Tower Hamlets, Zaytoun and many trade union websites. We reached lots of local people through our own social media campaign and through posting hundreds of postcards and leaflets in local venues and through letter boxes. The launch was broadcast by Al Jazeera Arabi TV while the exhibition received prominent coverage in the local council newspaper Our East End with a half page spread showing a photograph of Tim painting a mural in the West Bank.
The exhibition took place at Four Corners gallery on The Roman Road, Bethnal Green from 29th Feb to 3rd Dec 2016. Thirty five prints in all were developed from Tim’s sketch-es and were printed by Print 101 on high quality giclee paper. All were framed and signed by the artist and hung around two rooms of the gallery.
A slide show of photos from the trip was also created and on continuous loop to give visitors greater insight into the places and communities visited by the Freedom bus.
The launch event on the evening of the first day was attended by around 120 people. A magnificent spread of Palestinian food was provided and a range of Zaytoun produce was on sale. Visitors heard presentations from Momin Swaitat, theatre performer and graduate
of the Freedom Theatre; Wesam Tahboub of Palestinian olive oil producers Zaytoun and of course from the artist Tim Sanders. Over £1500 was raised at this event alone from sales of £10 tickets, produce and limited edition prints.
Over the following four days a range of visitors from the diversity of local communities were encouraged into the exhibition by the colourful window display and by members of the group who took turns to wave a Palestinian flag outside the gallery and hand out leaflets to passers by.
This really worked well and resulted in a constant stream of visitors, all of whom received a folded hand out that gave a context to the images in the exhibition.
Most visitors were keen to discuss the exhibition and wider issues about Palestine and human rights. The feedback we received from these discussions, and from the feedback forms that all the visitors were asked to fill in, was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the exhibition itself and what it represented in the fight for freedom and human rights.
At a time where politics and the media was focusing on divisions between communities it seemed that people were keen to have the opportunity to focus on our common humanity. Overall we estimated that around 300 people visited the exhibition and many of these left their email addresses so that we are able to contact them about future events.
Sales of prints:
All visitors were able to buy prints from a small selection available at the exhibition or to order bespoke prints that we ordered for them from the printers and which we sent off to arrive before Christmas. Despite the complexities of this task, this was achieved and in all over 150 prints were sold.
Outcomes and future plans:
As we still have the framed prints we are planning at least one further exhibition before auctioning them to raise further funds for Palestine. Currently we are negotiating an exhibition in the summer with P21 gallery in Chalton Street, Euston.
The exhibition yielded £3,500 profit which we are sharing between the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, the Jenin Cultural Centre and a project in Jenin refugee camp that produces prosthetics for people injured by conflict. We have also contributed to the production of a film by a young Palestinian on peaceful solutions to the conflict.
Sponsors of the exhibition and Tim’s participation in the Ride included:
- East London Teachers Association (NUT)
- Tower Hamlets UNISON
- UNITE London housing workers’ branch
- University and College Union London Retired Branch
- National Union of Journalists London Central
- We are also grateful for the support of graphic designers Smith+Bell, local picture framers Ginger White and printers Point101 as well as individual donors.