My Heart was in Gaza

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

DISPATCH BY: TAYSIR BATNIJI

MY BODY WAS HERE, BUT MY THOUGHTS AND MY HEART WAS IN GAZA

"I studied first art at Al-Najah University in Nablus, in Palestine (1985-1992). The arts education that I had in Palestine, although it was important to begin with, unfortunately, it was still very academic, with very little, means, recourses or references; and the Internet, was still unknown in that time. So we hardy hadn't any connections with what was happening in the art world outside Palestine. The evolution of art history stopped at Picasso and the 50s in Europe. On top of that, the university had been closed by Israel for 4 years, with the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, which prolonged my studies two years longer.

When I finished my art school, I had always this feeling of something missing and the impression that all still there was much to be learned… I have always looked for alternative forms of expression away from the rigidity of the academic framework, and I always thought that elsewhere things happened differently, that there were other ways…

In 1994. I was awarded a scholarship to spend 3 months at the School of Fine Arts in Bourges (France), that and I managed to extend another 2 months. During those two months, I have taken steps to become a student at the school, and I was accepted in the fourth year and get awarded my diploma in 1997. Since then, I began have been dividing my time, travelling between France and Palestine, until 2006 when movement became almost impossible because of the blockade imposed on Gaza. During this period spent between two countries and two cultures, my work has evolved from painting and drawing as main media, to a multidisciplinary practice… and it became more conceptual. This in-between situation, in which I live, since I arrived to Europe has become in some way, and despite all the difficulties, a rich source of inspiration and material for my work, as evidenced by a most of my works produced in recent years.

Animated by a desire to expand my knowledge in art, to be informed about the current artistic world and to develop my own practice, I have had always wanted to go to Europe. This is also the reason why I'm here. And thanks to the support of Edge of Arabia and to my French passport - because with my Palestinian one, I do not think it would have been possible - I could benefit from three months artist residency at ISCP in NYC, which reaches its end in a few days.

While my time in New York has offered a unique and fruitful opportunity to introduce my work to American audiences, the timing of the residency is set in a very delicate and very difficult time for me with the genocide that just happened in Gaza, my hometown. It was for me a bit paradoxical and sometimes disturbing, to think that I'am in a country who is officially supporting unconditionally Israel and the Isreali occupation of my land, and in the same time, as an artist, I'm supposed to discover this country, to make connections, and to be open to art and culture and receptive to all what I'm living as a new experience here. And this is what I tried and what I'm trying willingly. But it wasn't easy for me, because during 50 days of war, my body was here, but my thoughts and my heart was in Gaza. In this kind of situation and violence of scenes of death and destruction, one wonders what is art and what art can do?

I do not think art can change the world, prevent wars, or save lives. But I have always believed and I still believe that cultural and artistic exchanges are the best way to open dialogue, bring peoples together and build bridges of mutual understanding and cooperation that transcends political divisions and what some likes to call a clash of civilisations. That is why I support deeply, this project Edge of Arabia and I am proud to be, by or my residence here, a part of this project."

- Speech made by Taysir Batniji at the CULTURUNNERS' launch in Houston, TX
21 September, 2014

ARTIST: Taysir Batniji

DATE: July - September 2014

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