top of page

The Maastricht Diplomat

  • 1200px-Facebook_f_logo_(2019).svg
  • Instagram_logo_2016.svg

Transcending Walls: The Power of Art in Times of Crisis

There are walls. Grey walls, towering ominously into the sky. Some of them have ropes or ladders to climb them, some are naked. Some are abandoned, others crowded with people. There are people approaching them, people climbing them, and people jumping from them. One of them is illuminated by a street light, revealing a single word emblazoned on it: madness. The walls are meant to separate, to keep people apart. They are barriers between children who used to play together, between farmers and their fields, between homes and neighbors. 

These walls stem from the brush of Khaled Hourani, a Palestinian artist from Ramallah - a city in central Westbank that serves as the administrative capital of Palestine. In 2022 he opened the exhibition “Leaping over the barrier”, a series of paintings showing grey concrete walls.

In truth, however, they are all segments of one and the same wall; one wall with two names. In Hebrew it is called גדר הביטחון („security fence“), in Arabic جدار الفصل العنصري („wall of apartheid“) — a significant difference, illustrating two opposite views on its intrinsic meaning. Yet, given the complexity and the amount of substantial questions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the question of the wall’s intention appears almost incidental. Then again, the dispute concerning the name and the purpose of the wall, in a certain way, reflects how far the disagreements between Israelis and Palestinians reach. In light of such fundamentally diverging perceptions of the conflict itself, can we even hope to overcome it and the barriers growing in Gaza?

This dream of overcoming the wall is at the core of Khaled Hourani's exhibition, which was inspired by media images documenting people climbing the Israeli-Palestinian separation wall. Through his artwork, the Palestinian artist expresses his emotions regarding the wall, illustrating its meaning for the people living under its shadow. For Hourani, the wall „condenses the meaning of occupation and continues to disrupt lives, growing taller not only in Palestine but also elsewhere in the world“. A recurring theme in the exhibition, however, is not only the wall itself and the division resulting from it but more importantly  the  possible processes of overcoming it. Many of the paintings show people climbing up the concrete or depict the wall with handles waiting to be climbed. Thus, Hourani uses his art to call for the walls to stop -  to visualize his desire of transcending these barriers. 

Throughout history, art, as a unique tool to express one’s identity, desires and most intimate dreams, has served as a mirror of society, reflecting the prevailing beliefs and aspirations of a particular time. Simultaneously, art movements play an irreplaceable role in shaping social conventions or challenging established norms. Especially in times of political conflict and war, artistic expression can be embraced as a powerful voice for justice, freedom and peace. The feminist art movement, for example, had a significant impact on addressing the struggle of women, questioning conventional gender roles, and expanding the representation of women in all areas of society.

Facing, however, unthinkable violence and destruction as currently present in Gaza, one has to wonder if art can actually make a difference for the victims. How could it possibly help overcome conflicts, reaching as far back into the past as the one between Israel and Palestine?

Above everything else, art is a way of telling a story. Whether it is music, photography, painting, poetry, or even dancing, it takes you on a journey to view the world through the eyes of somebody else. It makes you experience what the artists experienced, feel what they felt. Because of this, art has the power to evoke empathy where mere words have long ceased to be heard. Such stories manage to draw the world’s attention to the persistent cruelty and the crimes that are being committed in Gaza. By visualising the devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis affected and, in this way, emphasising the urgency of their situation, art can furthermore make a crucial contribution by expanding the pressure on political decision-makers to end the bloodshed. 

Alongside its capacity to spark awareness and empathy, art can serve as a technique to process traumatic experiences. Having witnessed unimaginable scenes of terror, victims are left with the memories haunting them, often forcing them to relive those agonizing moments over and over again. Expressing such memories and emotions in creative ways can help to explore new ways of processing trauma, externalize reoccuring images and even resolve negative associations. For victims of the crimes in Gaza, converting their experiences into pieces of art can, therefore, have a therapeutic effect and improve their ability to deal with such intense emotions.

There are various forms of artistic expression that do not rely on the use of words and are therefore not confined to language only. Accordingly, art can be viewed as a universal language, capable of being understood and spoken all over the world. In doing so, it enables communication across borders, cultures and political ideologies. When it comes to intercultural conflicts, effective communication is critical in order to prevent a further escalation of the conflict and to ultimately find a resolution. While art may not be able to achieve this on its own, it can have a profound impact by fostering an understanding of the other side, enhancing sensitivity to cultural differences and creating an atmosphere of common humanity.

This metaphor of art overcoming walls has been brought to a literal level in Gaza. The separating wall more and more often serves as a canvas for artists to express their resentment of the barrier. Particularly, the Palestinian side is covered with Graffiti, calling for freedom and peace. Among others, street art legend Banksy added his touch to the diverse collection of slogans, symbols and illustrations. Similar to Khaled Hourani’s fantasy of climbing the wall, Banksy’s Flying Balloon Girl seems to rise up into the sky, far above the wall or any other barriers holding her back. 

The truth is that it would be naive to think that the conflict in Gaza is going to be solved through paintings, poems, or even graffiti by famous street artists. However, this does not mean that it cannot pave the way for potential solutions in the future. By giving a voice to people to tell their stories, offering a way to process traumatic experiences, and building a base for empathetic communication between opposing parties to, art can ultimately, transcend the barriers that are keeping us apart - not only in Israel and Palestine but also elsewhere in the world.


Email Address:

Copyright 2020 UNSA | All rights reserved UNSA

bottom of page