Ismail Abu Aitah | 18-11-2015
Nothing stops true artists from creating, even when basic supplies such as paints, charcoal pencils and chalk are nowhere to be found. In Gaza, which has struggled under an ongoing Israeli blockade and three wars in six years, enterprising Palestinians use unconventional materials to create art—even cosmetics and spices.
Nearly 2 million people in Gaza Strip are packed into a space of 360 kilometers (about twice the size of Washington, DC) and the border crossings are typically shut to all but a relative handful of fortunate people and selected goods by the Israeli army; as a result, the high rate of poverty discourages interest in buying art, since it’s not a priority, and art supplies are very expensive when they make it in.
In the Al-Amal neighborhood of the Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, 23-year-old Kholoud Eldesoki started using makeup and hair spray three years ago as a replacement for paints and other materials, which she couldn’t find in local markets.
“When I started to search for colors to paint, I could’t find them in the market,” recalls Kholoud, who studied fine arts at Al-Aqsa University. “A single color has a variety of shades; in countries like Egypt and Iran, you can find an infinite number of shades at all times. But in Gaza there are few supplies like chalk and pastels. And what I could find was very expensive, ranging from $250 to $300 or more per box. I used to ask my sister’s husband to get them from Egypt on his travels since they are much cheaper there.”
Then, Kholoud had the idea of raiding an old makeup kit given to her by her mother for items like lipstick, eyeliner, foundation powder and eyeshadow to use for drawing and adding color. She also found that hairspray works in place of fixative when applying colors on top of charcoal sketches to prevent them from blending.
The texture of makeup is almost the same as chalk and pastel, says Kholoud. She experimented many times with different cosmetics, from lipstick, to eyeshadow, to eyeliner. Kholoud started to get used to and like the feeling and texture of makeup in her art.
To depict an old person, with wrinkles all over his face, Eldesoki uses a charcoal pencil and then coats the drawing with hairspray. For her paintings of women, she often uses maroon lipstick for the face, eyeliner and foundation powder for facial details, and beige eyeshadow for the remaining details.
Kholoud focuses on a variety of themes in her paintings, but most frequently depicts Palestinian women because they “are victims of violence and marginalization, and the society doesn’t appreciate their sacrifices.”
The young woman has encountered other challenges as well. “Making statues of people is prohibited in Islam,” she explains. “Although painting them is allowed, some still believe it is prohibited to draw people or even photograph them. So I change their features, like leaving out the pupil of the eye and adding many wrinkles on the face of a woman to represent the Palestinian cause through her patience.”
Khuloud’s 66-year-old father, Mahmoud Eldesoki, proudly recalls that, “Kholoud was gifted since her childhood and we worked on improving her skills and encouraging her college studies. I believe in women’s education; I have six daughters, all with university degrees!”
However, obtaining this education is not easy. “We live in a patriarchal society that has no respect for women, giving men the upper hand even when they are illiterate themselves,” he says. “Thus a university degree for women is a weapon in times of crisis, enabling them to work and to help educate their children.”
Even though there is very little encouragement for artists in Gazan society, Eldesoki’s family, fellow artists and friends gave her all the support she needed. She says, “I have several artist friends from the West Bank and Gaza who are always encouraging me, such as Mohammed Al-Hawajry and Mohammed Al-Dairy, who reached the final stage of Arabs Got Talent 2013.” Al-Hawajry also has experimented with alternative art materials; he has incorporated spices and animal bones into his work.
Kholoud aspires to earn a scholarship for a master’s degree in art therapy. She says, “Art therapy helps relieve mental disorders, offering both physical and psychological treatment. Adults and children suffer from many psychological issues and traumas that need to be addressed. Such stresses can gradually cause cancer, heart diseases, blood pressure and diabetes.”
The bad economic situation and repeated assaults may challenge Gaza’s artists, but it doesn’t hold them back. Necessity is truly the "mother of invention."
Posted on November 18, 2015