The central graphic elements of this poster are the figure of a Palestinian woman dressed in a richly embroidered robe and traditional milfa’a (Arabic: shawl) holding a bowl piled high with oranges. The wall behind the woman is decorated with colorful, whimsical shapes and features an arc of tiles in a continuous floral motif.
The poster was published shortly after the outbreak of the first intifada (Arabic: uprising) of December 1987. At that time, the central question was whether or not the uprising would spur Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories to confront the Israeli occupation with previously untried methods of resistance such as stone-throwing, road blocks and tax revolts.
The poster’s caption is an excerpt from The Poem of the Land, by the renowned Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish:
This excerpt was not chosen at random. These lines of poetry are code. Through them, Palestinians communicated with one another that they would not return to the status quo of occupation, but rather would leverage the intifada into a mass movement of organized opposition.
Modern Palestinian graphic iconography often represents Palestine via the figure of a woman. (The poster’s title, Salma, is a woman’s name.) Other common icons of contemporary Palestinian culture include the orange for abundance; the olive tree for the land; a horse as a symbol for the revolution; the rooster as a symbol for the people or village; the raised rifle to represent armed struggle; and the key as a symbol of return.
In his book, Palestinian Voices: Communication and Nation Building in the West Bank, Israeli author Dov Shinar wrote:
It seems that in the framework of the revolutionary style, Palestinian artists, when attempting to convey a sense of Palestinian heritage, strive to emphasize the non-Western, village-like nature of their work... Abstract, surrealist style and some graphic forms comprise an additional type of international language, one used extensively by Sliman Mansour, perhaps as a result of his longer experience and Israeli training.
Jamil Al Muhammil
In this poster, the woman represents the historical ideal in terms of Palestinian cultural identity: a traditionally dressed woman offering guests hospitality and the bounty of the land. She is a symbol of fertility and plenty. The woman is standing inside her home, which is decorated in muted variations of the colors red, black, green, and white, the colors of the Palestinian flag. The colors are subdued for good reason: the display of the national colors of Palestine, the Palestine flag, and pro-Palestine graffiti in the Occupied Territories has been outlawed by Israel since 1967. Such displays are punishable by stiff fines or imprisonment. Since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, Israel has relaxed its censorship somewhat, but still selectively enforces the ban. (Source: U.S. Department of State — Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2002. Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. State Department, February March 31, 2003.)
Mansour is one of the best-known Palestinian artists in the Occupied Territories. He is a graduate of Israel’s most prestigious art school, the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and is currently the director of the Al Wasiti Arts Center in Jerusalem. Along with a number of other Palestinian artists who live in the Occupied Territories such as Taleb Dweik, Tayseer Barakat, and Nabil Anani, he has participated in a number of joint exhibits with Israeli artists. These include “Down With the Occupation,” “Peace — It’s Possible,” and “Portraits of the Intifada Martyrs.” This last exhibit was reviewed by The New York Times; many of the posters from the show were confiscated by Israeli military authorities.
Though widely recognized and with a great many admirers and supporters in Israel, Mansour was, according to Ismail Shammout in Art in Palestine, “...summoned for questioning by Israeli authorities, put under house arrest and had some paintings confiscated” for his insistence on using the Palestinian national colors in his works and for his unauthorized contacts with Israeli artists.
Mansour is also the author of what is perhaps the most widely reproduced and most immediately identifiable Palestinian poster ever to be published in the West Bank, Jamil Al Muhammil (Arabic: Carry On).
This poster features a fatigued though determined porter carrying an enormous sack that contains the city of Jerusalem. It is meant to represent the commitment to persevere that is the historical obligation of every Palestinian nationalist.
The outsized hands and feet of the uncomplaining porter represent the quiet, determined strength of the common people of Palestine and the fact that even though they may be tired, ill-clothed, overworked, and underpaid, they will not put down or drop the load.
The porter stands alone; there is no one in sight to relieve or assist him. The landscape is bereft and he has only a single tattered rope with which to anchor the load using his back, his head, and his hands. This composition visually reinforces a core Palestinian principle: that they alone will redeem their homeland and they will do it with whatever resources they have at hand.
Published by the Al Jaleel Printing House in Amman, Jordan, Jamil Al Muhammil has been reprinted countless times and hangs on the walls of Palestinian homes around the world.© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.
Questions for A New
1) Palestinian and Israeli artists both use a woman as an icon of their respective national identities. Why? What are the advantages and limits of such an icon?
2) How does Salma relate to early Zionist posters that also featured romantic, poetic, historical, and even mythical bonds with the land?
3) What are some of the major Zionist icons and symbols? What do they mean? What are their origins?
4) Has the Israeli government ever supported exhibits of Palestinian posters? Has it ever considered art a legitimate form of political expression by Palestinians?
5) What does it say about a government that arrests artists and confiscates art?
Please send us your questions and comments (English only please!)
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