Ismail Matar

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Different Class's goal is to provide young artists with the space to freely express themselves. Our commitment lies in amplifying their voices and what they stand for. Despite our will to remove ourselves from the equation when it comes to our artists’ voices, we cannot accept neutrality or take distance from the question of systematic colonial oppression. As a cultural platform, we remind our audience – whether you are an artist, a creative, or just a spectator – of the power that words hold. 

We asked several creatives to share their thoughts on art, resistance and freedom. Illustrator, Sirien Salameh, painter, Ismail Mattar, artist, Firas El Hallak, musician Shadi Zaqtan, poet and co-founder of Palettes of Palestine, Hala El Mohor, photographer, Abdulazez Dukhan and art collective Tashattot -  each shared their unique forms of expression regarding Palestinian freedom. 

What does it mean to be free?

Freedom is sacred to people from Gaza. Freedom is something that we are always seeking because we have been so heavily deprived of it. The word freedom does not only entail freedom of expression and opinion; we lack the freedom to travel and the freedom of choice. Freedom is the most important and basic human right that Palestinians seek. 

For me, freedom is ridding ourselves of unjust laws that restrict us, without harming others. It should be my right to freely choose my government and who represents me – it is my right to freely decide my own fate. 

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Can you tell us about your work and projects in Gaza?

I was once a child in Gaza, and I remember everything I struggled with and was deprived of. A big part of my work revolves around creating change that can contribute to a better life and future for children. When I was younger I hoped to find people who would help us, but I was alone in the fight and it was not easy. So, during and after the attacks that took place in Gaza, I focused on the psychological support of children. I would invite them to paint with me and I collaborated with organisations to host art workshops. The children would be able to release the suppressed emotions and express themselves through art. We also tried to reach marginalised areas in Gaza, which was challenging. We tried our best to help them process the shock of what they experienced.

I fought a lot to be able to grow my talent as a painter and I want to support children whose talents were neglected due to the conditions that Gaza lives in too. But regardless of art, every child deserves better.  Even though I am not in Gaza, for me this work is not over yet; a lot of the children who were killed in Gaza had so many dreams that were lost and life meant a lot to them, so I want to deliver their messages to the world. Art spreads the message but it does not fix the problem. I want to do more to create change. Children in Gaza suffer from a lack of safety, hygiene and access to water and electricity. I hope someday I will create a project that creates change for children beyond art.

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In what concrete ways can the art and cultural sector effectively help with the current situation?

Culture plays one of the most important roles in delivering the message. For instance, my art draws attention to Palestinian life. I came across several people who, via getting to know my work, began researching and learning more about Palestine. Now, those people speak up for Palestinian rights to peace and security. My experience showed me art can be an impactful force. In terms of culture, you can now see artists with large platforms are influencing entire audiences. There are a lot of barriers between us and politicians, but through culture, artists are able to reach people beyond barriers. 

As an artist living in Europe, do you think your audience and environment understand your art, and deal with your art the way you intended?

The reactions I get from the audience here are quite positive and people seem to like what I do. When I address the world, I address values that are universal. I paint about things that are shared by everyone such as hope, freedom and dreams. Art is a common language among all people. There is no translation that can differentiate this message from one part of the world to the other. At times I paint in different forms depending on where I go. But from Gaza to Europe, I always call for the same rights through my art. I will keep painting about hope and our right to a safe life 

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And does the meaning of your art change according to where it is being consumed?

Meaning does not change for me, but the method changes. In Gaza, I did not paint on boards or canvas as much, I focused on the refugee camps because I considered the camp and the walls there part of my message and painting. I used to pay attention to the walls I painted on as most of the houses there were in harsh conditions. So when I would want to paint about the camps, the walls helped me portray the struggle in a genuine way. In Europe, I paint on canvas but I hope to paint on walls again soon. 

An artwork, poem, music, or photo you want us to look at/learn more about today?

I am deeply inspired by Belal Khaled (@belalkh), a photojournalist from Gaza who, without hesitation, returned to document and share the news of the ongoing attacks in the region. He also happens to be a brilliant calligraphy artist, he always drew on large spaces with Arabic handwriting, which is a great representation of our identity. His art left a mark in many countries. He also opened a studio in Turkey where he brings Palestinians together to engage in art, raise awareness about life in Gaza and share Palestinian culture with the world. 

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Do you think art can be nonpolitical?

I personally do not like to take a stance in politics as I have not found a political body that represents me. I think art can indirectly be political but I prefer to use art to focus on humanity and represent the human beings that are affected. What Gaza needs the most is humanity.

<div class="editorial-banner"> <div class=“editorial-credits”> @ismail.matar_ <br/> Donate now to Medical Aid Palestine or to the Palestine children's relief fund to address urgent humanitarian needs in Palestine. Or learn more at Decolonize Palestine. </div></div>

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