Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—On one of the walls of the Rashidieh Camp, located in the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon, a sprawling mural shows Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s founder, cradling the keffiyeh of the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, Fatah’s founder, in an attempt by the artist to bridge the chasm of distrust that has separated the two movements for more than five years.
Armed with only a paintbrush and spray cans, a Gazan artist tries to reconcile the feuding parties of Palestine. In his National Unity Mural, he succeeded in creating something which the veteran politicians could not: national unity between Fatah and Hamas.
He is Mohammed Al-Dairi, a Gazan artist who in his murals depicts the Palestinian people’s right to life and exposes the Israeli aggressor’s violations against women, children, and the elderly. His works, which first appeared on walls, streets, and houses, can now be found framed in the streets of refugee camps and in homes both inside and outside Palestine. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Dairi said that “capturing patriotic messages in my paintings is a point of pride for me. I am performing a national duty in light of what the Gaza Strip has experienced in terms of wars and suffering at the hands of the Israeli occupation. I started painting at the beginning of the first Intifada in 2001, when I was 14 years old, and before that I used to paint on walls as a hobby. My painting style evolved into a nationalistic art form when I depicted the young Mohammed Al-Dura, whose martyrdom had a profound impact on me personally.”
The now-25-year-old went on to use art as a form of resistance, expressing through his graffiti the tragic situation experienced by Palestinians, “because art is closer to the people and everyone sees it. It is my means for expressing pain and all of the sacrifices.”
Painting in public spaces, often referred to as graffiti art, captures the essence of an idea and is often employed to bluntly express a political, social or economic reality.
Over time, this art form has become a popular means for modern expression. It has enjoyed a prominent role in revolutions and demonstrations, and as a means of protest and to express some of the frustration experienced by the Palestinian people.
Responding to a question, Dairi said, “Painters are poor speakers, but they can make silence seem musical. Drawing is initially a talent which with study and practice comes to reflect internal creativity. Every painter has a style unique to him. To me, drawing is everything; it is my life.”
Dairi’s mother played the biggest part in cultivating his artistic abilities. She enrolled him in the Palestinian Red Crescent’s academy, which was overseen by foreign instructors with knowledge in graffiti art. By chance, he was grouped in with four Palestinian artists who would have a strong influence on him: Abdel Raouf Al-Agouri, Raed Issa, Bashir Asanwan, and Mohammed Al-Auajery. They would later found the Association for Palestinian Artists, of which Dairi became a member.
Regarding his drawing technique and choice of subject matter, Dairi explains: “I envision any person in the world and draw them as if they were in standing front of me. I most enjoy drawing faces using charcoal, paint brush and oil colors, because they inherently attract the eye.”
In January, Dairi began delving into painting with spray paint, a technique which allows him to paint his murals in 5 to 20 minutes.
In the Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp, he drew Yasser Arafat and Jerusalem in 20 minutes. He embraces being Palestinian and takes pride in painting for his country, saying, “I will continue the resistance using my brush, just as the renowned poet Mahmoud Darwish resisted with his poetry and the legendary artist Naji Al-Ali resisted with his art, and prove to the world that we are not a ‘terrorist’ people.”
[inset_right]”I will continue the resistance using my brush.”[/inset_right]
Dairi glowingly mentioned his depiction of Lebanese president Michel Suleiman, who himself praised the work. He said that he chose to draw the president because of the many favors he has done the Palestinian people in Lebanon.
His distinctive and beautiful style enabled him to participate in the finals of the highly popular talent show, Arabs Got Talent which is expected to re-air next month.
During Dairi’s second visit to Beirut, he took time to meet with Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf, the previous winner of Arabs Got Talent, and gifted him an original painting of his.
Compliments for Dairi’s skill with the brush do not stop with Assaf; the three judges on the popular television show, who include Ragheb Alama, Nancy Ajram and Hassan El-Shafei, heaped praise on the artist, who in turn drew each of them and presented them with the paintings.
At this year’s the Martyrs of the Earth exhibition, which was held by the Palestinian embassy at the UNESCO Palace in Beirut for Earth Day, Dairi covered Palestinian refugee camps with beautiful depictions of the nationalist leaders who defined the Palestinian struggle, especially the late President Yasser Arafat.
Today, Dairi aims to complete three murals of Yasser Arafat on the walls of the Rashidieh Camp as part of his ongoing project in Lebanon. His project, which focuses on the right of return, began in the Bourj El-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut. He plans to expand it out to the Al-Buss Camp next, and eventually to all of the other Palestinian refugee camps.
Dairi concluded by expressing his hopes that all of the various Palestinian parties would hold this art form in high esteem, because young people are talented and experienced in the art of drawing. He said that the youth must be extended a helping hand “in order to build a comprehensive state pulsating with culture, learning and the arts, which are all fundamental components when it comes to building a new Palestine.”