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.
Thank you to everyone who attended our popular art exhibition at Four Corners Gallery, Bethnal Green.
From Tuesday until Saturday last week, we opened the doors of the gallery to those from afar as well as from our own community, to experience Tim Sanders’ unique portrait of Palestine sketched during The Freedom Ride earlier this year.
We were humbled to host over one hundred and twenty people at the opening of the exhibition where guests enjoyed Palestinian cuisine whilst browsing the illustrations and listening to our speakers. Al Jazeera broadcast the evening’s events live! The first speaker to address the audience – international and in house – was Mo’min Swaitat, a graduate from The Freedom Theatre, the institution which organised The Freedom Ride. He spoke passionately about The Freedom Threatre, cultivating individual talent of Palestinians and the importance of protecting the cultural life of Jenin, our twinned city. He shared the lamentable news that Cinema Jenin was to be destroyed to make way for a shopping arcade. Mo’min emphasised the value of art in shaping, not merely a response to oppression, but articulating a vision of a more hopeful future.
We owe a great debt of thanks to Zaytoun for their enormous contribution to the exhibition. Wesam Tayboub, social relations manager for Zaytoun also spoke at our opening, delighting us with the details of the ancient olive harvest in the West Bank and giving mouth-watering descriptions of Palestinian cuisine produced using ingredients such as Palestinian Medjoul dates. Zaytoun produce, which supports Palestinian farmers to continue to make a living despite the obstacles of occupation, was snapped up in great quantity during the week, especially the ‘liquid gold’ olive oil!
Tim Sanders, with his characteristic humility and humour, shared insights and inspirations that helped form the reportage style of his illustrations. He spoke movingly of the deeply affecting scenes that he witnessed, albeit it briefly, hoping that ‘the images would speak for themselves’. One of the illustrations he captioned ‘To Exist is To Resist’, for him this was the most evocative slogan of life in Palestine, capturing so much experience in so few words – something he wished to replicate with his art.
We are delighted that many who visited the exhibition throughout the week not only enjoyed the experience but said that the illustrations enhanced their awareness of Palestinian life and struggle, just as Tim intended.
We are enormously grateful to those who made the exhibition possible, including all the individual donors and unions who sponsored Tim to attend the Freedom Ride 2016 (NUT, Unite Housing Branch, NUJ, Unison, UCU); Zaytoun; those involved in production and logistics including Four Corners Gallery, Ginger White company, print 101, Riverside Printers, Smith+Bell; as well as all the activists from our Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity group who, with no previous experience of this type of undertaking, worked over many months to put on our first ever exhibition.
TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE HERE
On show will be colourful depictions of everyday life among Palestinians living in West Bank refugee camps, towns and villages. Farming, food and community resilience is a strong theme. Prints and cards of selected images will also be on sale. Tim, who lives and works in Bethnal Green, was the talent behind the daily cartoon in the Independent until the newspaper switched to online only earlier this year. He recently took part in the The Freedom Ride 2016, organised by The Freedom Theatre based in Jenin Refugee Camp.
Retired local Maths teacher Sybil Cock also joined the tour, which brought performing Freedom Theatre actors to Palestinian communities, alongside a group of internationals sharing their talents.
The opening night will include a private view, with Tim Sanders talking about the inspiration behind his images, Palestinian performer and graduate of The Freedom Theatre Momin Swaitat, plus Zaytoun representatives talking about their work with Palestinian farmers.
TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE HERE
After his recent trip to Palestine illustrations by national newspaper cartoonist Tim Sanders are available for sale as cards.
Tim joined four other members of TH Palestine Solidarity for the Jenin-based Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Ride in March this year and recently presented selected images for the first time at a talk he gave last week.
Now they are available for the first time in packs of five cards with short descriptions on the back. Money raised from sales will go towards costs and TH Palestine Solidarity’s continued campaigning, and solidarity and educational exchanges over the next year.
The cards feature a range of images from interactions with Palestinian children to Israeli soldiers interrogating them as well as more scenic images of towns, villages and the countryside.
The cards are available in packs of five for £5+£1 P&P. Prints and a calendar will be available later in the year when a full exhibition of his work is planned.
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Tim Sanders left his mark on the apartheid wall that separates the Palestinian district of Abu Dis from the rest of Jerusalem, splitting neighbours and relatives from each other.
About 60,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem-residency IDs are now forced to cross through a military checkpoint to get to their schools and workplaces.
Three years ago Abu Dis protestors used sledgehammers to make a 4-metre hole which they climbed through.
There are two communities that live side by side in the South Hebron Hills. One is Carmel, a gated Israeli settlement of 400 residents, with lush gardens and air conditioned homes.
The other – just beyond Carmel’s barbed wire fencing – is the Bedouin hamlet of Umm al Khair, a collection of about 70 people living in tin huts and tents with no access to electricity or running water.
The Bedouins in Umm al Khair came here nearly 70 years ago when Israel expelled them from the Naqab desert. They bought the land bit by bit over a ten- year period from people who lived in the nearby town of Yatta. In total it cost them what amounted to 100 camels.
They attracted little attention from the Israeli authorities until 1980 when the decision was made to build Carmel and the settlers began to look looked greedily on the Bedouin land.
The means of grabbing it was through the issue of phoney military zone orders by the Israeli army so the Bedouin structures – from their homes to their bread oven and more recently the small toilets they had built – became illegal.
Some structures have been demolished two or three times and then rebuilt. Soldiers attack the goats, sheep and the shepherds that tend them. The Bedouins have papers to prove ownership but are forbidden permits to enable them to build new houses or maintain the old ones. The Bedouins refuse to leave.
Meliha, a 56 year old woman with 17 grandchildren, says the Palestine Authority have been of no help. “They came once, took a picture and then left,” she said. “We have to be steadfast. The Palestine Authority build mansions in Ramallah but we stay here to fight to keep our land.”
We made it through the checkpoint to the Jewish enclave in the old city of Hebron, which now contains some of the West Bank’s most hardline settlers.
The area is usually off-limits to non-Israelis, but we managed to wander through the ghost town that was once home to thousands of Palestinians. Now it is home to 400 settlers that are protected by 2,000 soldiers.
This was once the centre of city life with 300 shops, the central market and government offices. Now the houses are sealed up and the shops closed behind rusty shutters. The old bus station has been turned into an army base.
The few Palestinians that remain can only enter their homes by climbing along their roofs and making holes between the houses. Children do the same to get to school, often having to avoid a barrage of stones and filth being thrown at them by the settlers.