Palestine: Dying to Live
(a ten-poster series)
This series of ten photographic posters represents the latest evolution of the Palestine poster. It is the first, and so far the only, exhibit of Palestine posters ever created specifically for the Internet.
As such, it represents the leading edge of the Palestine poster’s mobilization as a mass communications resource. These cyber-based graphics stand at the far end of a spectrum that began with the crude, black-and-white-on-newsprint posters first published by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1965.
What was once an amateur, localized, strictly works-on-paper medium has matured into a sophisticated, electronically created, design-driven modern media campaign. It clearly shows that Palestinians, though a culture-in-exile, have been paying close attention to the evolution of the Internet as a resource for leveraging the art of their liberation movement into communities around the globe.
The left half of each of the ten posters features a famous figure from world history: Ludwig von Beethoven, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Ghandi, Umm Kulthum, John Lennon, Abraham Lincoln, Pablo Picasso, William Shakespeare, and Mother Theresa. In the right half, a Palestinian child stands or sits in a position echoing the stance of the historical figure. Each poster carries a caption associating the aspirations of the Palestinian child with the vision, creativity, selflessness, or dedication to justice demonstrated by the depicted figure from history.
The ten captions read as follows:
Ahmad of Palestine yearns to be a Mahatma Gandhi. Dare we say that his yearning is not in vain?
Amal of Palestine wishes that she could be an Umm Kulthum. Dare we say her wishes can come true?
Johnny of Palestine imagines he can be a Lennon. Dare we say that his imagination is a fiction?
Khaled of Palestine hopes to be an Einstein. Dare we say there’s such a thing as hope?
Shadi of Palestine wants to be a Shakespeare. Dare we this is to be or not to be?
Bassem of Palestine fancies becoming a Charlie Chaplin. Dare we say he can laugh out loud?
Sarah of Palestine hopes to be a Mother Teresa. Dare we say hope still exists?
Kareem of Palestine believes he can be a Beethoven. Dare we tell him to hold onto his beliefs?
Zaid of Palestine aspires to be an Abraham Lincoln. Dare we say aspirations are not for fools?
Samer of Palestine dreams of becoming a Picasso. Dare we say that dreams can come true?
A poster introducing the exhibit (not included here) features a quotation from Nelson Mandela, an open ally of the Palestinian liberation movement. It reads:
Only free men can negotiate.
Some of the captions reference work by the depicted historical figure. For example, the Lennon poster plays on the title of the celebrated song Imagine, while the Shakespeare poster references a line from the play Hamlet.
All of the creative and political luminaries depicted in these posters are immediately recognizable in the West, with the possible exception of Umm Kulthum (the Egyptian “Diva of Arabic song”). All also are deceased. Thus the designers sought to have history speak out on the subject of Palestinian human and political rights, and to relate Palestinian aspirations to the universal desire for freedom to achieve one’s potential.
An important feature of this series is its avoidance of the familiar vocabulary of armed struggle. None of these posters even hints at rejectionist, maximalist, insurgent, or overtly nationalistic terminology. Moreover, they are bereft of any of the standard visual elements of resistance such as rifles and clenched fists. There are no references to battles, national heroes, and sacrifice.
Palestine: Dying to Live, represents a radical departure: it embodies all the understated and culturally accepted norms of an ad campaign targeting a bourgeois, democratically mature audience, in a determinedly pacifist and disarmed way. Designed for a western, Internet-savvy market, Palestine: Dying to Live eschews content that might put off that audience. It is a masterpiece of nuance and understatement.
All the posters in Palestine: Dying to Live are easily downloadable as full sized, full color PDF’s and are copyright free, which means that any individual, solidarity group, school, gallery, etc. can print them out and host a local exhibit for little more than the cost of the printouts. According to the publishers, the Palestine: Dying to Live images may be reproduced to create large-scale advertising applications such as billboards or to raise funds for Palestine solidarity activities via calendars, t-shirts, school book covers, note cards, coffee mugs, and other print-friendly commodities.
The fact that all these posters are printed in English, both the offset copies and the online versions, indicates that the authors understand that, for better or worse, the dominant language of the web is English and that most of the viewing audience is English-speaking. An Arabic and French version are mentioned at the site; however, for reasons that are not explained, they are not accessible.
This deployment stands in sharp contrast to the tendency of many Palestinian posters publishers who, over the past fifty years, chose to print exclusively in Arabic, thereby severely limiting both reach and effectiveness. The creators of this exhibit have shown that they have learned from the past and they have made few, if any, tactical or distributional errors.
Although highly polished, Palestine: Dying to Live can be criticized in terms of both content and aesthetics. The ten posters are all very similar in layout and content, making them repetitious and predictable; a variety of magnetic and beguiling approaches could have been employed. Furthermore, by relying exclusively on photographs, the opportunity was lost to introduce the art of many talented artists working in solidarity with Palestine in a wide variety of media such as silkscreen, ceramics, textiles, illustration, collage, sculpture and other visually rich alternatives.
These criticisms, however, would be valid only if this were to be the only such web exhibit of its kind ever to be mounted. As it is, it is undoubtedly a precursor and can be considered an experiment of sorts.
These posters create a fascinating counterpoint to the advertising campaign that produced the posters of the early Zionist yishuv (Hebrew: community) period, approximately 1918-1948. Zionist trade, tourism and emigration agencies retained well-known advertising and public relations firms in the U.S. and Western Europe to design and distribute posters promoting the aims of their organizations. Almost six decades later, Arab design and advertising professionals have organized to take advantage of the global reach of the Internet, the phenomenal capabilities of modern design software such as Photoshop, and the now well-known principles of mass communications to promote an agenda of their own.
Dying to Live demonstrates, for anyone who will consider it, that the iconography, charge, vocabulary, reach, and intent of the Palestine poster genre is evolving. Critics of this genre may justly claim that a given poster, the works of an individual artist, or a particular exhibit are inflammatory, biased, or worse. What they cannot say is that the genre is static. The attitudes behind the creation and dissemination of Palestinian solidarity posters should be of critical interest to all those who seek to advance an authentic, grassroots cultural exchange between the American and Palestinian people.
All the other liberation movements of the twentieth century that generated significant political poster art traditions have either faded or entirely disappeared. This includes the South Africa anti-apartheid movement; the Sandinista Nicaragua movement; the “People Power” movement of the Philippines; Chile's anti-Pinochet movement. Even the poster-publishing powerhouses of the Soviet Union and Cuba are defunct. Yet the Palestinian solidarity poster has not become an artifact. Rather, it is an active, fertile, maturing resource, one that Palestinians celebrate as an integral part of their national culture.
© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.
Questions for A New
1) Why do you think the publishers of this series of posters chose these particular historical figures? Why do you think controversial and militant figures were not selected?
2) What historical figures could be used in the design of an exclusively American version of Palestine: Dying to Live?
3) This poster series moves the discussion away from the current lamentable state of distrust and vitriol, toward a peaceful dialogue on the role of creativity. Is this strategy helpful, and for whom? When has this strategy been used before, if ever, by advocates for Israel or for Palestine?
4) How important is it that projects like this are published in English? Would this project have been as effective if it were published in Arabic with English subtitles?
5) How useful would this exhibit be in providing visual resources for contemporary Middle East studies at an American high school or university?
Please send us your questions and comments (English only please!)
|Another democracy-building arts
initiative of Liberation Graphics.