“I was born as everyone is born,” the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once wrote. I always wondered what he meant by that. Did he mean that Palestinians are essentially like other human beings? That we have the rights as all others? Even though I don’t feel like everyone else? I was never really sure.
And then I met Gaza artist Basel El-Maqosui and developed a deeper appreciation for that quote. What inspires him the most? “My people,” he says. “Their suffering and their demand to live freely without wars, killing and destruction.” Recently, he also discovered the humanity and beauty Gazans share with others, despite the toil required to live and survive here. And it changed his art.
During the three wars waged on Gaza since 2008, Basel’s paintings were mostly black and white, or monotone. For example, during the 2008-2009 Israeli offensive, he created a series of 40 black-and-white paintings that depicted in crude strokes the miserable reality of life under war. How could he use the color green when there was no peace in Gaza? How could he use blue when the sky was clouded with smoke from bombs? And how could he even dream of using pink?
After November 2015, however, Basel’s paintings took another direction. Basel earned the opportunity to spend one month in rural Connecticut, USA, as an artist-in-residence for the Connecticut-based I-Park Foundation. And it changed his life.
Day after day in his rural getaway, Basel was washed in the beauty of nature: green fields and blue sky, and the time to absorb every detail. He began to paint the rich colors and fine details he discovered in every blade of grass. And he realized with a shock that Gaza had such beauty too; he just had not been able to see it when weighed down by the worries of war and survival.
When he returned to Gaza, Basel continued to paint with the same theme, hoping to help his fellow Gazans be more positive in their own lives. He called this new series, “Gaza Reconstruction in Color.” In these new paintings, for example, he shows the bright colors that characterize many of the houses, streets and seaside walks.
Basel’s experience in the United States answered my question: Do we have the right to live life as others do? Yes, we have. We are all humans.
This article was originally published at We Are Not Numbers.