Armed with magic markers, crayons, and pencils, the children of Gaza have unleashed their most powerful weapon yet: honest yet brutal images depicting life under occupation through the lens of a child.
The traveling exhibit “A Child’s View From Gaza” is currently on display at Columbia College Chicago, hosted by the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization.
“Art can be a really powerful thing,” said Columbia College Chicago’s SJP President Ashley Deakins. “It can give a voice to people all over the world. And that was the biggest reason why we decided to specifically host this exhibit. It shows the power of what art can do if it’s exposed to enough people.”
The exhibit features a collection of drawings created by children from across Gaza participating in the Let the Children Play and Heal project by the Afaq Jadeeda (New Horizons) Center in cooperation with the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), a program designed to provide coping outlets for children affected by the violence of occupation through art, music and drama.
“The art projects were born out of a necessity to try to reduce the impact and effects of the attacks which killed hundreds of children in Gaza,” said Ziad Abbas, Associate Director of MECA, in an interview with The Electronic Intifada. “These drawings came from that kind of therapy to express their feelings.”
Images from the exhibit show heart-wrenching scenes of brutality, terror, and fear drawn immediately after the Operation Cast Lead conflict in 2009, in which an estimated 1,400 Palestinians, including some 300 children, were killed. From demolished buildings and Israeli bombs falling on burning buildings, to wounded men, women and children lying in pools of blood on the streets, the drawings offer a harsh reality of life in Gaza. Ambulances zoom down the street, while Israeli tanks fire into crowds. Families huddle around piles of rubble that were once homes as bullets rain overhead.
Sadly, it’s a reality that is rarely seen in the American media. This exhibit offers Americans a glimpse into the world so rarely shown to them through mainstream media, created not by political groups or operating under any hidden agendas, but simply by the experiences of the children that live in this grim reality. It shows the destruction and desperation of Gazans living under forced occupation, cut off from the rest of the world, and rarely able to represent themselves on a global level.
“[The Israeli-Palestinian conflict] in the media is very highly politicized, very controversial, and very black-and-white. You flip on the television and you never really see the faces of civilians, and women and children who are caught in the crossfire of all this political-speak,” said Deakins. “I think bringing an exhibit like this to light, and showing it to the public, makes people realize that this is not a conflict that is being fought on the floor between politicians. This is their opportunity to have a voice.”
A voice that was very nearly drowned out; last year, the exhibit was cancelled at the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) in Oakland, California, after complaints by pro-Israel groups in the area. An official statement from the museum cited the violent subject matter as inappropriate for children, though past exhibits have featured similar artwork created by children in Iraq following the 2003 U.S. invasion, as well as an exhibit of artwork made by children during WWII featuring images of Hitler, burning airplanes, and sinking battleships.
Groups involved in the protest of the artwork included the Jewish Federation of the East Bay (JFED) and the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).
The JCRC issued the following statement in response to the museum’s cancellation of the exhibit:
“The exhibit, sponsored by a well-known political advocacy organization, contains violent images that demonize and dehumanize an entire ethnic and religious population.”
It continues, “The museum’s leadership recognized the negative effect that this inflammatory exhibit would have on young children, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Furthermore, the museum recognized that the exhibit was incompatible with its core mission of instilling a love of art among Oakland’s diverse children’s population and could potentially create an unsafe atmosphere for Jewish children.”
The censorship of the project was perhaps most devastating to the children artists, who felt their voices and very identity as Palestinians were being censored out once again.
“It’s upsetting to them to hear that a children’s art museum across the world decided that their personal [narratives] are offensive, and then silenced their voices and artwork,” Abbas told The Electronic Intifada. “When you hear about an art museum that has violated its own mission to censor children’s artwork and children’s artistic expression, it’s extremely disappointing.”
This sobering collection of images made by the children whose lives have been forever tainted by the violence, destruction and loss that surrounds them is a bold message to the world that it cannot continue to look away as devastation and destruction take its toll on the Palestinians trapped in the cyclic violence that grips Gaza.
And as MECA Executive Director Barbara Lubin notes, the attempted censorship of these images has only made them more powerful:
“When we first planned the exhibition at MOCHA, we expected that a few hundred people would see the show and attend the programs. Now, thanks to the efforts to make the show disappear and the power of those images to move people, they have been viewed by hundreds of thousands. Requests have come from people in countries around the globe saying they wanted to host the show. Crayons, pencils, and magic markers. Maybe they were right. Maybe the images are too dangerous to be seen.”