The history of modern Palestine can be traced through the work of its artists.
After the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, what has become known as the Nakba, the theme of refugees — “hopeless, helpless and without homes” — dominated.
But, as veteran artist Sliman Mansour explains, after the emergence of the armed struggle in the 1960s, “Palestinian art became proud.”
“The Palestinian woman with her nice dress, flowing hair and long neck: the woman is a symbol of the revolution,” he says.
Jerusalem soon became a symbol for Palestine, and Mansour is perhaps best known for his painting of an elderly man carrying its walled Old City, with the Dome of the Rock as its crown jewel, on his back.
“The main idea behind our work was to try to promote and develop and show that there is a Palestinian people and Palestinian identity and culture,” he says.
Artists like Mansour didn’t choose to be political, but were only responding to their environment, he adds.
Mansour and his comrades in the Palestinian Art League printed their work on posters to reach the widest audience possible.
Their work was wildly successful.
“You can find Palestinian art posters in every home,” he says.
“This sudden fame also made the Israeli authorities aware of our existence,” he adds. “They confiscated some artwork. What happened to these artworks, we don’t know until now.”
Israel began censoring Palestinian artists, and banned the colors red, white, black and green — the colors of the Palestinian flag.
During this time in the late 1980s known as the first intifada, Palestinian artists began working with natural materials, in observance of the boycott of Israeli products.
“Instead of painting a landscape, I will use the land to paint,” Mansour recalls thinking.
Mansour was once part of an initiative to try to change Israeli public opinion through art, under the banner of ending the occupation.
“We came to a conclusion that it is not working … so we stopped,” he says.
Linda Paganelli is a visual anthropologist based in Palestine.