Artistic procession reflects Palestinian past

Around 70 people gather at Manara Square in Ramallah on a Wednesday afternoon. Excited, they are waiting for the march to begin while enjoying the juggling performances of several artists…..

Around 70 people gather at Manara Square in Ramallah on a Wednesday afternoon. Excited, they are waiting for the march to begin while enjoying the juggling performances of several artists. As the group of people finally starts moving, they take to the city’s streets. On this day, it is the cars that stop for the people, not the other way around. Pedestrians on the sidewalks are clearly irritated by a march in the West Bank’s governmental centre. This irritation even rises as some people dressed in 1980s-style clothes and others masked with kaffiyas start giving away leaflets with texts from the firstintifada. “Where is the police?“, some of the passers-by mumble.

The procession forms part of the second Qalandiya International Art Festival in Palestine and is an event of the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center. “Last year the director of the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center decided to focus the event on the first intifada, because these days the young generation doesn’t know what happened then. They are starting to forget the essence of this important period“, the artistic director Rula Khoury explains. As a result the Sakakini Centre came up with the “Mapping Procession“ which, according to the Qalandiya program, is meant “to mark the first intifada“ and “to intervene and re-appropriate public space and the citizen’s relationship with it.“

That is why on October 29 a group of people marches through the centre of Ramallah, commemorating the first intifada. “It is an amazing feeling“, Ghantus Ghantus describes as he hands out copies of an original 1988call for resistance. “In 1988, the year I was born, this was illegal and people could go to prison for it.“ The idea for this particular activity is from renowned Palestinian artist Khaled Hourani. “It is the 28th leaflet of the intifada which is from the same date as the march today“, he tells the AIC. Furthermore, since then the demands have not essentially changed as nothing was achieved, he states “I wanted to bring back the historic leaflets and show that they can be distributed as if the were from today.“

At another location performance artist Riham Isaac pushes a rock onto the middle of a street near the Ramallah Municipality. Her dress and yellow shoes are reminiscent of the photo taken of a young women throwing stones after having been to church during the first intifada. “What does it mean?“, a foreign woman asks – but the Palestinians instantly connect the performance to roadblocks during the firstuprising. Some of them even start helping the artist. A feeling of community evolves. Riham sees a major importance of the procession in intervening in public space and interacting with people. “In the galleries you always see the same faces“, she says, and stresses the importance of getting back to popular art. “I wouldn’t say that in general, but sometimes art here is not art for people anymore – it is art for funders.“

“My vision was to have a ‘happening’“, Rula Khoury specifies. That is why the activity includes acrobatics and performances by the Palestinian Circus School and Palestinian drama students from the Kasaba Theater. Later at the municipality, described by Khoury as the event’s “peak“, people sing along with musicians Denes Asad and Walid Abed Alsalam as they play revolutionary songs from the first intifada such as ‘The Strike’.

Still, to some participators the walk is more than a mere’happening’. “A march like this would never be possible as a political demonstration. Only if we cover it as art“, one of them says. Khaled Hourani rejects this idea: “We don’t hide behind our art. We wanted an artistic walk. Anyone who wants a political demonstration can have it at many places, such as the Qalandiya Checkpoint or even inside Ramallah. Look at the biggest demonstration in solidarity with Gaza – 48.000 people in Ramallah.“ He sees the procession’s aim as a critical reflection and engagement with the past, and draws back to the focus of this year’s Qalandiya International Festival: “Archives, Lived and Shared“.

Rula Khoury affirms this notion: “We are here today because things changed during the first intifada. And then we had the Oslo Accords that changed everything. Now we are realizing the effects of the first intifada. We need to show the new generations what affected us today.“ And even though some mistakes occurred, she is content about the general result of the public intervention: “People came, walked and stopped in the streets.“