Malak Hijazi | 04-11-2018
Through his art, Majdi Abu Taqiyya hopes to convey the message that Gazans love life.“It is like bringing life from death,” he explains. “They [the Israelis] show us the faces of snipers, but we transform their bullets into beautiful artwork."
Childhood in a refugee camp
Majdi Abu Taqiya, now 38, grew up with his 10 siblings in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. It was not an easy life; they studied in crowded schools and lived in tiny houses with fragile metal roofs that froze in winter and were scorching hot in summer. And the one thing that could have offered children care a bit of an escape was absent: a playground. Instead, they made do with playing ball games and hide-and-seek in the camp’s narrow alleys.
Nevertheless, Majdi had big dreams. He didn’t know that even dreams too often are forbidden in Gaza.
Majdi’s life was turned upside down when he was 12 years old. His father, a taxi driver inside Israel, lost his job as a result of the 1993 Oslo Accords—an agreement that was supposed to pave the way for an independent state but that terminated Palestinians’ ability to hold legal (more lucrative) jobs on the other side of the “green line.”
The family faced a highly uncertain future. Majdi, the second-oldest of the 11 children, wondered, “Who will feed us? Who will buy us clothes? What type of life will we have? My father wouldn't show his tears, but I knew he needed help.” Despite his parents’ objections, he decided to drop out of school so he could help the family by joining his father in a carpentry business, making furniture.
He quickly became an adult in an adolescent’s body.
The fact that he did not complete his schooling made Majdi feel hopeless and sad. He never gave up on his desire to complete his education. He managed to finish his studies through high school at home, but his dream of university remains unfulfilled.
Evolution of an artist
Majdi’s discovered his love of creating art when he was only 4 years old.His mother says he would stare at any paintings he saw often sat in the alley in front of his family’s house, collecting colorful stones and arranging them in patterns. “Look what your son is doing! He'll definitely be a great artist in the future,” a neighbor told her once.
“The affinity I have for art is definitely inborn," Majdi reflects. During challenging times, like when his father first lost his job, he says he used art as an escape. “I used to collect stones on the seashore, then paint and glue them into patterns, like a map of Palestine,"he says, adding that he also has experimented with wood and glass.
Everyone in his family encouraged Majdi to pursue his hobby, especially his mother, who told him his hands “were made of gold.” He loved to give his creations to his family members and friends.
The idea of using bullets to make art came to him in 2003, Majdi recalls. That year was filled with clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli army, whose bullets littered the ground. “I collected the bullets and welded them together to make miniature icons of Handala [a famous cartoon of a little refugee boy drawn by the late Naji al-Ali] and other Palestinians symbols. To me, it is a form a resistance."
However, Majdi took a break from his art for a while to devote more attention to his carpentry and family, which had expanded to include a wife and three children. (Today, there is 13-year-old Shahed, who dreams of becoming a lawyer or judge; Zayna, 9, who wants to be a fashion designer; and the youngest, Muhammed, just 6.)
Along the way, Majdi replaced his carpentry work a steadier income from the Palestinian Authority’s maritime security division—until last year, that is. As a punitive measure against the Hamas-run Gaza, the PA cut his salary by 50 percent (from 3,000 shekels a month to just 1,500, or about US$406). That’s when he decided to start creating art again.
The Great Return March
Then came the Great Return March, a mass popular protest that launched March 30 and has continued each Friday ever since to refocus world attention on the injustice of the Israeli punishment of the Palestinian people. Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have participated in the protests, including Majdi.
"I joined the Great Return March three times,” he says, “because I believe the world will never hear us if we don't speak up and take risks. Protesting is the right of any human who feels oppressed, and I am a refugee who has been forced to live a subhuman sort of life in the Gaza Strip. That ugly fence [between Gaza and his historic homeland, now known as Israel] separates us from the existence we deserve."
Remembering his days at the protests, Majdi described smoke so thick [from the tires burned to obscure the sight of the Israeli snipers] he couldn’t see the grass…the sound of yelling that made it impossible to hear anything else… the sweat pouring profusely from his forehead and labored breathing due to tear gas. Majdi suddenly realized he had lost track of his 20-year-old brother Ahmad and shoued frantically, “Ahmaaad, where are you?” He ran almost in a daze, asking everybody if they had seen Ahmad—whether they knew him or not. Finally, he learned that his brother had been shot. He ran to the nearest hospital, where he discovered Ahmad being transported to a hospital room. When the doctors removed the bullet, Ahmad asked them to give it to Majdi.
“Take this awful thing and make it into something beautiful,” Ahmad told Majdi. “I know you can. You’ve done it before.”
From bullets to resistance art
“My brother's injury inspired me to make unusual art using unusual materials,” Majdi explained. He made miniature objects from empty munition cases and tear gas canisters, found by the dozen on the grounds of the protest camps. Now, his protester friends collect them for him routinely.
Some of Majdi’s creations celebrate Palestinian identity and tradition, such as minature reproductions of a Bedouin village, an Arabic coffee urn and a traditional taboonoven for bread baking. Others honor Palestinians who lost their lives at the hands of Israelis. For example, from the remnants of tear gas canisters, he models of a camera and press vest, like those used by martyred journalists Yasser Murtaja and Ahmad Hasanein. He also made a miniature icon of the Palestinian nurse Razan Al-Najjar wearing her paramedic outfit; Israeli snipers shot her while she was volunteering at the march in June 2018. It was this ruthless behavior by the Israeli army that stopped Majdi from joining the march himself; he was afraid for his children.
"The Israelis kill kids, journalists and paramedics without mercy and without any guilt. I am a father and my kids are my life,” he says.
Nevertheless, Majdi believes he has a different, equally important role as an artist: to encourage people to transcend the borders of race and religion and beliefs. He explains that “no matter the nationality, no matter the religion, no matter the color, art connects our minds and hearts. I truly believe it can help make this world more peaceful.”
Majdi has exhibited his works at a gallery in Gaza, but his dream is to show them in galleries around the world, bringing together people who believe in love, peace and justice.
Posted: November 4, 2018
Mentor: Zeina Azzam