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'Gallery at the Walled Off'

Category: Features

The Walled Off Hotel is situated in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, in Palestine. The hotel, opened by the elusive artist Banksy in 2017, has only 9 rooms and is filled with original Banksy artworks. The hotel has been a great success since its opening and has attracted many new 'tourists' to what is an area still embattled over disputed land. However, this hotel is not only about Banksy, it features a wonderful gallery filled with some wonderful Palestinian artwork. In this article, we focus on the past and present exhibitions in the ‘Gallery at the Walled Off’, our new member gallery.

Discussion with Wisam Salsaa – Manager of the Walled Off Hotel.

David Field (GAT): When did you open the Gallery in the Walled Off Hotel

Wisam: We opened the gallery inside the Walled Off Hotel in early 2017. It is worth mentioning that the art gallery is the first in the city of Bethlehem. The goal of the gallery is to bring Palestine, the people, the history and the art, to a wider audience. We are proud to do this by featuring mainly Palestinian artists through their paintings displayed inside. Supporting Palestinian artists through the sale of their paintings, helps to provide them with some much needed financial support so they can continue to provide high-quality art.

A view from Inside the Gallery during the first exhibition.

“Reviewing Oneself & the Art of Living“

The first group exhibition at The Gallery at the Walled Off lasted a year. Here is Wisam Salsa talking about the exhibition at the time….

“Reviewing Oneself & the Art of Living “

‘The exhibition features ‘life’ images of people in love with life. We see the joy in the eyes of children playing while sitting on the road, and in schools where the voices of boys and girls chant an endless symphony. It is the story of dispersed people who do not stop attempting to cling to a glimmer of hope. The wonderful colours in the formations of the Palestinian embroidery express the uniqueness of every town and village in our lands, and of Palestinian women in love with life. The joy of overcoming each barrier that stands in the way of young men and women to achieve their ambitions in education, love and life. Every secluded space in the collective Palestinian soul, houses the goodness and melodies chanted by our ancestors since the old times, engraved in the mind to carry on in the path of appreciation, creation and existence. These days, we still see one thousand and one tales narrated through Palestinian contemporary art. The choice of colours chosen is blended with deep and passionate feelings. Novel and simple ideas are formed and transfigured through the artist’s personal experiences and obsessions that reflect their daily realities. It’s not those that haunt them that occupy their dreams and hold their attention as artists, rather the common concern for each person battling with life.

As noted above, this exhibition of Palestinian visual art in the city of the nativity, is a new stage that brings together different generations of diverse art experiences. The exhibition includes works by the first generation of artists who founded the visual art movement in Palestine, and gave importance to the visual concept as a tool to express their collective concern in this suffering country. We also see representation by the artists of the generation that followed, who associate with the world’s leading artistic concepts and offer unique and creative experiences.

Other participants in this exhibition belong to the new generation of artists who deal with new techniques in visual art like installations and video art as tools for self-expression of the creative artistic sense. This, the first exhibition at the Bethlehem gallery, displays unique artistic experiences. Moreover, although this exhibition introduces new topics in the field of Palestinian art, it also highlights Arab visual art in general. It is self-conceptual, an attempt to deal with it through homages or criticism and analysis, or by returning to the Palestinian heritage and universal concepts of art alike. There is no doubt that this exhibition will put Palestinian art under analysis and discussion and raise many questions about the link between the artist and his own reality, however hopefully this will help in making Palestinian art renowned and universal. Perhaps, therefore, the Palestinian artist will become more connected with the “I“ on the one hand and the world on the other hand. Artists participating in the group exhibition: Suleiman Mansour, Nabil Anani, Taysir Barakat, Khaled Hourani, Asad Azi, Manal Mahamid, Samar Ghattas, Iyad Sabbah.

Harvest by Suleiman Mansour | Oil on Canvas from 2016

GAT: Would you consider the exhibition successful?

Wisam: Yes, very successful. We introduced the work of Palestinian artists to new collectors and were thrilled with the response of visitors. We sold many of the artworks to people from all over the world which was very pleasing; not only in terms of financial support for our artists, but because it shows that Palestinian art can have a global reach.

GAT: Can you tell us a little bit about your current exhibition?

Wisam: Our new exhibition “ House … Houses “started recently and will run continuously for one year.

‘Home” plays a significant role in the visual arts. In Palestinian art, the memory of loss and the permanent struggle in search for the ‘home’ from which the Palestinian people were displaced is evident. The symbolism of the home is embodied in the key in the refugee’s hand and is an expression and icon of hisher dream of return to it. This has a large impact on Palestine, replete with olive and orange trees, and whatever else of the visual heritage which presents the abundant nature of its lands. Yet at the same time, artists have also presented the lands that were seized by the colonizer and destroyed by the Israeli occupation forces. Politics has thus played a direct role in the formation of the features of Palestinian art, turning it into a national product and confining it to particular topics within a specific frame.

As can be seen in the present exhibition, the treatment of ‘home’ draws upon reality, a ‘home’ which was lost. However, the exhibition also delights in showing childhood memories through the use of pictures of family and of children’s toys. In fact, this exhibition’s title is inspired by the name of a children’s game, which is widespread in Palestinian society.

From the work featured, it could be said that some artists may have recalled memories addressed to them long ago, engraved in their hearts, which they have turned into works of art today. Some artworks are looking for the meaning of a home whose features are lost, while searching for a safe haven.

Additionally, the artists may have looked for a childhood memory and family through a particular object which narrates an incident that had lain outside the bounds of consciousness. They deal with ‘home’ through the depiction of a natural scene related to it, or present it embodied. For example, in a chair figure soaring on top of house roofs, a group of geometric designs, or anarchy of colours.

The distinction between the use of ‘home’ as a real space and ‘home’ as a metaphor that entails the artistic world, transforms this exhibition into a wide forum for discussion, stressing the close link and attachment of the Palestinian artist to his home, land and history. The artists have been particularly sensitive to issues of asylum and displacement that is taking place today in other Arab countries and elsewhere. In this sense ‘home’, whether on the personal or symbolic level, challenges formal definitions. Perhaps we will find a spacious ground to be addressed from different perspectives, between the imaginary and the realistic. There is a wide spectrum of representations in this exhibition which may lead us to consider ‘home’ more deeply, in all its personal, social and universal contexts and relationships.

List of participating artists: Osama Said, Asad Azi, Anisa Ashkar, Iyad Sabbah, Bashar El Hroub, Tayseer Barakat, Juhayna Habibi Qandalaft, Khaled Hourani, Zuhdi Qadry, Suleiman Mansour, Samah Shehadeh, Samar Ghattas, Amer Shomali, Abed Abidi, Manal Deeb, Manal Mahamid, Munther Jawabreh, Mai Murad, Mikhael Hallaq, Nabil Anani.

Montage of works in the current exhibition, featuring artists Suleiman Mansour, Munther Jawabreh, Manal Mahamid, Osama Said

GAT: What would you like to say to collectors and visitors to ‘The Gallery at the Walled Off’

Wisam: Lots of elements came up together to make the Palestinian art very special and probably different than other art around the world, Palestine is the birth place of religions and prophets, home of the ancient civilians, unique landscapes and nature, Palestine is becoming a factory for producing values of liberation, freedom and love of life.

The Gallery at the walled off hotel presents great artists from Palestine, who share their experience and stories through an amazing art. I hope you all will enjoy and there is always a story tell through it.

Hotel Manager Wisam Salaa inside the Gallery at the Walled Off.

The Gallery at the Walled Off have a number of works for sale form theartists featured in both the exhibitions. You can see some of the works HERE

Gallery at the Walled Off : 182 Caritas Street, Bethlehem, West Bank, +970 2 277 1322.