At art school in Gaza, creation trumps destruction

A few hundred meters from the residential tower destroyed by an IDF bomb in Gaza City on Tuesday, a new art school is literally picking up the pieces. Students of the Dar al Kalima Training Center, housed in a renovated mid-century house with a courtyard garden, collect broken glass to make stained glass art shaped like doves.

While still not sure enough to return to school, the only accredited fine arts academy in Gaza, its founder Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran priest from Bethlehem says, “We must keep doing art is very important. We cannot let destruction have the final say.

The art school started as a satellite program of Dar al Kalima College, an institution founded in Bethlehem by Raheb in 1995, in a former Ottoman-era building that has been restored and converted from a former church crypt.

“I went there in 2018,” says Raheb from his home in Bethlehem, “and after I left, 200 young Gazan artists befriended me on Facebook. Everyone asked me to start an art school in Gaza.

In 2019, the Dar al Kalima satellite program started in a corner of the French Cultural Center in Gaza and soon an old house in central Gaza was acquired and renovated with the help of students, volunteers and funding from Bright Stars of Bethlehem, a Chicago-based NGO that helps both colleges.

Soon offices and studios were built and the school opened on March 7, 2020, just in time for the global pandemic. Yet classes continued even as new variants ravaged Gaza’s fragile health system and overcrowded refugee camps. During the past year, numerous workshops and exhibitions of photography, videography, painting and sculpture have taken place, as well as concerts and radio broadcasts of traditional and popular Palestinian music.

A photograph of a student, Humam Alnazali, from an exhibition titled Childhood and Misery

The aerial bombardment has halted lessons for now, but plans are underway for a new program, based on the one initiated by Raheb in Beirut last August., to showcase the work of young artists and sell their work internationally.

Although it is difficult to enter and exit Gaza, due to the land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since the fundamentalist organization Hamas took power in 2007, there are ways to bring art out of Gaza. Land in the West Bank. “Woodcarvings are not allowed,” notes Raheb, “but paintings, embroidery and some traditional textile arts are acceptable”.

The college always raises funds to subsidize the tuition fees of students in Gaza, who in turn run community workshops, often in refugee camps, for younger people.

Raheb pauses for a moment to check a message on his phone from a member of university staff about another bomb that fell near the school. “I believe diamonds are made under pressure,” he says. “There is so much pressure now in Gaza, but there are so many diamonds. “

Kayleen C. Rice