New Initiative Invites Museums to Borrow Work by Palestinian Artists

Works by eight artists from Gaza and over 200 drawings by Palestinian children exploring cultural identity and colonial resistance are now available for museums in the United States and Europe to borrow through a new loan program. The initiative was launched by the Palestine Museum US in Connecticut, whose director and founder Faisal Saleh is originally from Ramallah, where his family fled after being displaced from their village of Salamah near Jaffa (Yaffa in Arabic) during the 1948 Nakba.

“The scale of what’s happened and continues to happen in Gaza is unprecedented and the world is shocked by that,” Saleh told Hyperallergic, referencing Israel’s deadly airstrikes on the region following Hamas’s October 7 attack. “Many people are asking their institutions to speak up and not be silent, so we think this program is very timely for any organization that would like to engage with a Gaza topic from an artistic point of view.”

Mohammed Alhaj, “Transition” (undated), acrylic on canvas

The program features works by artists currently based in Gaza, such as Mohammed Alhaj, whose work calls attention to themes of Palestinian displacement and resistance, and Motaz Naim, who primarily paints Palestinian rural landscapes and farming villages. The initiative also includes work by Mohamed Harb, who uses color in his paintings of Gaza to inject life and energy into the gray reality of living under Israeli occupation.

Saleh told Hyperallergic that Harb lost his sister Luisa and her family in Israeli airstrikes. In October, Saleh also lost contact with Gaza artists Heba Zagout and Mohammed Sami, who were both reported killed by the bombardment.

Since Hamas militants killed approximately 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages on October 7, the Israel military’s retaliatory bombardment, multi-scaled siege, and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip have killed more than 14,800 Palestinians, including about 6,000 children, according to the Government Media Office (GMO). In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed 230 Palestinians, including 56 children since October 7.

The Palestine Museum US is also offering museums the opportunity to loan approximately 200 drawings created between 2008 and 2009 by children in Gaza. The pieces, which illustrate the experience of living under occupation, gained attention in 2011 when they were slated to be included in the exhibition A Child’s View from Gaza at the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland, California, before the institution backed out of the exhibition due to pressure from local pro-Israel organizations. 

“Showing people artwork, besides what they see on TV, and creating a human connection between the artists and the people that are looking at the art — it gives an opportunity for people to see something about the people in Gaza and who they are, what their work looks like, and to engage in conversations about it,” Saleh said.

In recent weeks, institutions including the Guggenheim Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Queens Museum in New York have all been subject to criticism and public protests by staff members and outside demonstrators. 

“People are looking for a response. They’re looking for a stance, for some reaction and empathy, and they’re not seeing it,” Saleh said.

“We’re trying to give a channel for that empathy, so we’re hoping that some of the institutions will take us up on that offer,” Saleh continued. “It would go a long way.”

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