Is this your first time in Gaza?

05 March '10

hazemharb_croppedBy Sehr Sarwar

As always, it is a real pleasure to attend an event at the wonderful Mosaic Rooms where I have previously attended the Mahmoud Darwish poetry reading memorial.

Luckily, for this young Palestinian artist, his first solo UK exhibition is spread over two floors of the impressive Earls Court venue. The pieces are accommodated in the main Mosaic Room as well continuing downstairs in the Mosaic Lower Grand Room.

Born in 1980, it is striking to note the intensity of Hazem’s works as he has spread the message of his Gazan experience by exhibiting all over the world, at galleries in South Korea, Munich, Italy, France and Paris. Hazem Harb’s “Is This Your First Time in Gaza?” consists of 32 varied works featuring digital photography, video art, mixed media works and large scale paintings. The bright, fresh and airy rooms are in stark contrast to the feelings invoked by Hazem’s pieces which deal with the dark grotesque themes of war, trauma and the human vulnerability associated with the Israeli war on Gaza.

Hazem’s works are mainly paintings in large format with the strong strokes of paint reflecting his fragile human nature and echoing the suffering in the Palestinians’ daily life. Living and working in the midst of the conflict, Hazem conveys his interpretation of the global instability through a variety of techniques.

The highlight of the exhibition for me was the video art that accompanied the title piece photographic installation. The main image of this piece is of a man from the waist downwards standing inside an empty suitcase that you may have seen on the publicity for this event. The six digital colour prints on photo paper all feature an open suitcase, to portray the nomadic existence Palestinians lead and the identity crisis that many grapple with when being confronted at checkpoints or borders. The 2 minute video art exemplifies the painful experience of going in and out of the Gaza Strip through a theatrical performance. Throughout the two minute audio-visual experience, I felt suffocated, uneasy and claustrophobic. It really does make you empathise with those who travel here and receive this painful inhumane treatment.

An artist can truly feel his work is a success when a viewer can instantly connect with his pieces in the same way I immediately felt uneasy watching the video footage. The view of the lens through prison bars and the commotion from the menacing Israeli prison guards barking repeatedly at travellers, “Where are you from?”, “Hands up” and “What is your name?” conveys the abject disrespect and humiliation with which you are treated.

Do visit their website for further information on upcoming shows.