In a topic as divisive as the conflict in the Middle East, one Ottawa-based artist puts politics aside in her photography, attempting to show in her exhibit the injustices in the occupied territories that she said can no longer be ignored.
“I’m focusing on, in this exhibition, the dividing of the Palestinian people from one another and from their land and their living resources,” said Palestinian-Canadian artist Rehab Nazzal of her fourth solo exhibit entitled, “Divide,” now showing at Gallery 101 on Bank Street.
Nazzal is a Palestinian-born artist who works in visual art, film and photography. In 2005, Nazzal was able to return to her country for the first time in two decades. She said she decided to begin taking photos of the images of the occupied territories.
It was through walking through the neighbourhoods, amid the cement blocks, watchtowers and checkpoints, that Nazzal said she reflected on the act of walking.
She said when she saw her homeland after being away for so long, she was shocked.
“ ... you come home and you see it divided and wrecked,” said Nazzal. “I mean, settlements all along the top of the mountains ... The shock. The pain. You see how people are living.”
She said the response to her exhibit has been positive. Employees of the gallery said over 200 people attended the show’s opening on March 5. Nazal said that more than anything, she found that people did not know a lot about the occupation.
She said one visitor pointed to the photo of an Israeli soldier kneeling with his gun pointing towards the ground, asking why he was doing that. She said the photo represented the fight for land between the two peoples.
She has another photo of a group of men of all ages, from young boys to grandfathers, standing among olive trees, facing a group of Israeli soldiers in protest. At their feet are prayer rugs. Nazzal said she stood with women behind the men. She said after the photo was taken, the soldiers descended upon the group, shooting tear gas.
But she said she avoided using images of violence. She asserts she is not a photojournalist.
“I have a lot of violent footage,” she said. But she said the goal of her exhibition was “not to catch a moment of death.”
She added she is optimistic about the future of the plight of her people.
“Because it’s a just cause -- that’s the power of it,” said Nazzal.
At the same time, Nazzal said she does receive criticism from those who say her exhibits are too one-sided. In the guestbook near the door, one visitor wrote: “This is a lie ... Try to look at the other side for it wouldn’t hurt.” Nazzal laughed as she read this. She said she feels nothing when she reads these comments and said this is not a matter of sides.
“When apartheid ended we didn’t say let’s try to be balanced,” she said. “No, there is injustice ... Even silence in a time of injustice is a form of oppression.”
The exhibition runs until April 3.