Keep Your Eye on the Wall: Palestinian Landscapes

Keep Your Eye on the Wall: Palestinian Landscapes
Publisher: Saqi Books
Published Date : 16 September 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0863567599

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Keep your eye on the wall

Review by:

Amelia Smith

Whichever direction you face in Qalqilya there is concrete. The entire town is surrounded by Israel's Apartheid Wall which blocks the view, restricts access in and out of the city and generally makes the lives of Palestinians there a misery.

In its entirety, the wall snakes through 700 kilometres of the West Bank and Gaza - it's four times longer than the Berlin Wall was and twice as high. So far this mixture of electrified fences, sniper towers and military trenches has cost over $2.6 billion.

Keep Your Eye on the Wall, published by Saqi Books, draws together seven award-winning photographers and essayists who reflect, in their own way, on this construction. The publication has a concertina binding so the pages can be pulled out to sit side by side, designed to evoke the concrete panels themselves.

Raed Bawayah's black and white portraits capture Palestinian workers who have climbed over the wall using ropes and ladders to reach the Israeli side where it is easier to find work. They rise at 3am, are picked up by a Palestinian contractor who charges nearly a month's salary per passenger, and spend several months away from home working.

One image depicts the workers asleep in beds made from metal cylinders, in the open air, in the middle of the countryside. One worker appears to be showering under a tarpaulin cover in a field – were they aware of what awaited them on the other side, of such brutal conditions, when they made the decision to cross?

Taysir Batniji's series was made during the beginning of the Second Intifada and documents posters of martyrs which were displayed on the wall. On one image you can see a man's smiling eyes but his mouth has been ripped out; on another a martyr's eyes have been scratched away. Names have been spray painted onto the wall in red, the colour of blood. One poster has been rolled up and tucked up inside a hole.

They are a disturbing reminder of the price of conflict and how memories fade with time. There have been many more martyrs since 2001.

Both the photographs in this book, and the graffiti and murals that are painted onto the wall, have been recognised as works of art in their own right, a fact that has caused debate both within the Palestinian artistic community and beyond.

In her essay, journalist Malu Halasa recounts the famous Banksy anecdote. One day, when the artist is spray-painting the Apartheid Wall, an elderly Palestinian man remarks: "You paint the wall, you make it beautiful. We hate the wall, we don't want it beautiful". Halasa asks: "Should oppression be made beautiful?"

In Bethlehem, guides hang out and offer tourists sightseeing tours of Banksy's work, or help them find the portrait of Leila Khalid in exchange for a fee. That the wall has become a commercial endeavour because of these works of art is disturbing but, at the same time, it is hard to imagine that any amount of painting would be able to make such a monster construction beautiful.

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