Beesan Arafat - Palestinian Visual Artist

Beesan Arafat - Palestinian Visual Artist

Art is way stronger than using words

Beesan Arafat combines her high level of artistic skill with her intense passion for Palestine, its land, culture, and people, to bring us impactful artwork which gives a voice to the voiceless and brings into sharp focus the stories so often unreported in our media.

Beesan Arafat - Palestinian Visual Artist

In Beesan's own words, 'Educating through art is way stronger than using words sometimes', and 'Sometimes art is more political than politics itself.'

Through her artwork, Beesan is able to show the reality of life for Palestinian people living under occupation - sometimes telling this story truthfully will mean presenting a bleak and challenging image but in the midst of this hard-hitting imagery there are still many pictures of beauty and the vibrance of the highly creative culture that continues amongst the Palestinian community.

Why a Watermelon?

Our Watermelon Notecards feature Beesan's beautiful original painting of a slice of watermelon on a traditional Palestinian ceramic dish with floral design. For many, this image is the epitome of what it is to be Palestinian, but why?

Watermelon - original artwork by Beesan Arafat

Following the Six Day War of 1967, Israel deemed that any display of the Palestinian flag would result in arrest. The ban of the Palestinian flag remained in place until the Oslo Accords in 1993. During these 26 years, the innate creativity of the Palestinian people was showcased once more. In the absence of their flag as a symbol of their culture, they began to use a perfectly legal substitute to retain their visibility and cultural identity, the watermelon! A slice of watermelon bears all the same colours as the Palestinian flag and the triangular shape of a segment of watermelon is also reminiscent of the flag's design.

Sometimes art is more political than politics itself

In the 1980s the ban extended to the use of the Palestinian flag colours, red, green, black and white in any works of art. This led to artists such as Sliman Mansour, Nabil Anani and Isam Badr being reprimanded for their use of these colours in artwork exhibited at Gallery 79 in Ramallah. Sliman Mansour recalls their conversation with an Israeli officer, who shut down the exhibition, 

The officer gave two orders, 'You cannot make an exhibition without permission and you cannot paint in red, green, black and white - these colours constitute a public representation of the Palestinian flag which is banned.' The artists questioned, 'but what if we want to paint a flower that is red, white or black?' the officer responded, 'It will be confiscated. Even if you paint a watermelon, we will confiscate it.' Sliman credits this exchange as the initial idea for the use of the watermelon as a covert Palestinian symbol.

In 2007 Khaled Hourani painted a watermelon for publication in the Subjective Atlas of Palestine a collection of works by Palestinian artists, photographers and designers, compiled by Dutch designer Annelys de Vet to 'show the disarming reverse side of the black-and-white image generally resorted to by the media.'

A Symbol of Solidarity

Now you know the story behind the symbol of the watermelon for Palestinians and why for artists like Beesan, it's such a significant creative icon.

Buying our Watermelon Notecards and Watermelon Keyring is one way you can express solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine and raise awareness amongst friends and family of the life-changing work of Embrace throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

An Inspirational Artist

Beesan has devoted many years to honing her artistic talents majoring in Visual Arts at Jordan University, obtaining an MA in Screen Design for Film and Television (Motion Graphics) from Kingston University London and completing a PhD in Visual and Material culture at Manchester Metropolitan University. Beesan believes that Palestinian art is intimately and inseparably linked to the Palestinian cause and once Palestinian people gain their freedom, then their art, too, can be liberated from politics. Creating art for the people and about the people, Beesan hopes to amplify the voices that she believes are most significant, those that remain silenced and struggle for a space to be heard, living under war and occupation.

Watch the interview video below produced by Alex Grace Photography to hear Beesan elaborate on her artwork and the inspiration behind it:

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