Glimmer of a Grove Beyond

Adele Jarrar

Visual journeys through the landscape: Curated selection from the Museum’s collection of Palestinian political posters

The poster has been a prominent tool for the dissemination of ideas, political messaging and calls for mobilisation in times of revolution throughout history. Efficient and inexpensive to produce, posters can be printed quickly by various methods, such as offset and lithography. Overnight, an entire city can be blanketed with posters, swiftly yielding a desired effect.

The Palestinian political poster came to prominence between the mid-1960s and late-1980s as a means of motivation, mobilisation and political messaging throughout the Palestinian revolution and its armed struggle. Its proliferation was bolstered by the establishment, in 1965, of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s National Arts and Culture Unit led by artist Ismail Shammout.

Palestinian political posters were an affirmation of the justness of the cause and a medium through which to expose the crimes of the Israeli settler-colonial project while undercutting its propaganda. The emergence and dissemination of these posters in the public sphere was an assertion of the existence of a Palestinian people and a challenge to those who denied it. They also served to counter the stereotypes associated with Palestinians and propagated by some Western media. The poster was an ideal medium on which to depict the land of Palestine — lost for refugees, and unknown to those born outside of it — thus evoking its image in Palestinian minds.

Posters were mostly produced outside of Palestine’s geographic borders, as their production and dissemination was outlawed by Israeli occupation authorities. They were printed in Beirut, Tunis, and cities around the world where the PLO was actively represented.

The spirit of the Palestinian revolution and struggle inspired various political movements and revolutions confronting imperialism and colonialism around the world. That spirit elicited broad international solidarity and fed a border-transcendent revolutionary imagination, which had been ignited by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Artists and designers the world over were drawn into the orbit of the Palestinian cause and its justness; many would contribute by designing political posters. Among them were Mohieddine el-Labbad (Egypt), Dia Azzawi (Iraq), Kadhim Hayder (Iraq), Mona Saudi (Jordan/Palestine), Mohamed Shabaa (Morocco), Kamal Boullata (Palestine), Sliman Mansour (Palestine), Nabil Anani (Palestine), Marc Rudin (Switzerland), Jack Kowalski (Poland),Toshio Satoh  (Japan)  Burhan Karkoutly (Syria), and Youssef Abdelke (Syria). The Palestinian struggle enriched their practices and offered them opportunities to innovate and experiment with their artistic methods and aesthetics, especially given the freedom afforded to them by the PLO to do so.

Numerous exhibitions and competitions featuring the Palestinian political poster and themes of struggle and liberation were held during that period, including the International Exhibition on Palestine, organised by the PLO in Beirut in 1978. The International Poster Exhibition, held in Baghdad in 1979, explored two themes: ‘Third-world Liberation Struggle’ and ‘Palestine, a Stolen Homeland’. Pedro Laperal designed its thematic poster, and participating artists’ works tackled a range of issues linked to the Palestinian revolution and the return of refugees. Among the themes were the beauty of the stolen land, armed struggle and the fida’iyin, memorialising the revolutionary shaheed, the brutality of the Israeli settler-colonial project and the plight of Palestinian refugees. The iconographic symbols employed included the map of Palestine, the olive, pomegranate and orange, the keffiyeh and traditional Palestinian dress, the key (representing the return of refugees), weaponry, Palestinian embroidery, birds and the dove in particular, the farmer, flowers and the anemone. Each of these symbols holds a special sentimental value in Palestinian collective imagination and cultural heritage.

Glimmer of a Grove Beyond explores representations of Palestinian land and natural geography through an array of political posters drawn from the Palestinian Museum’s permanent collection. The collection includes a set of 540 Palestinian political posters, produced between the late-1960s and early-1990s, which were collected and generously donated by ambassador Ali Kazak.

The curated show addresses the notion of landscape and the alterations inflicted on Palestine’s geography, sometimes represented through orientalist photography, and at times as lost geography or as fantasy. Those alterations shaped the political project and ideologies of the day, which in turn were reflected in the artistic and visual languages employed in posters.

Glimmer of a Grove Beyond aims to outline links among the various artistic styles and methods of landscape representation, in addition to their fluctuating relation to the contemporary political project and historical circumstance. It complements the Palestinian Museum’s preceding exhibition, Intimate Terrains, and offers an opportunity to examine the landscape through an additional, unique artform: the poster.

The show is divided into seven sections, classified according to iconography or topic: Sowing Liberation, Agency and Sanctity, Devastation as Landscape, Manifesting Palestine, Fida’i, Flowers and Anemones, and Reclaiming the Orange. Each section highlights distinct methods in which symbols or topics were employed, and sheds light on their relation to landscape.

The title, Glimmer of a Grove Beyond, was inspired by French author and activist  Jean Genet’s memoirs, in which he recounts seeing the lights of the Galilee glimmering beyond the Jordanian frontier, where he was encamped with Palestinian fida’iyin in the early 1970s.

Section One:
Sowing Liberation
Having been stripped of their land, means of production and personal fortunes, which had afforded them independence and prosperity, in the wake of the Nakba in 1948, Palestinians had also lost a significant component of their identity as a mostly agrarian society (fellahin). The Palestine Liberation Organisation saw agriculture as a tool of resistance, no less important than armed resistance. Left-wing PLO factions looked to the Irish and Chinese agricultural revolutions for inspiration. Many posters centred on the theme of agricultural production were issued by SAMED, an institution established by the PLO in 1970 as a nucleus for Palestinian economic and agricultural production, and a source of employment for Palestinians in the diaspora. 

Section Two:
Agency and Sanctity
Women were often represented in two distinct ways in political posters. One was as a ‘modern’ working woman, an active participant in the armed struggle and the building of Palestine, independent of, and on equal footing with men. The other depicted an idealised image, with an aura of sanctity, such as a mother wearing a traditional embroidered dress, her role presented as that of an aide to the struggle rather than an active agent. In such depictions, the mother was often representative of Palestine the motherland. Left-wing factions almost exclusively employed the former representation, while other national liberation factions tended to utilise both representations simultaneously. Many such posters depicting women became revolutionary emblems, such as one poster featuring a photograph of freedom fighter Layla Khaled.

Section Three:
Devastation as Landscape
After suffering destitution in the wake of the Nakba, Palestinians lost a direct visual relation to their homeland’s natural landscape and geography. Those were replaced with another, unnatural landscape, characterized by tents of refuge, concrete-studded refugee camps and the hideous massacres committed against Palestinians, especially during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s. Many posters were produced to document those massacres and depict the new, unnatural landscape.

Section Four:
Manifesting Palestine
The Palestinian landscape was often represented as picturesque, sometimes quite poetically, thus fostering a utopic image of Palestine in the Palestinian consciousness of the diaspora. Many posters also depicted the notion of stolen childhood, while others relayed their messaging from the perspective of childhood. The landscape to a child, may lie along the path through which they ride their bicycle. In the collective Palestinian imagination, the landscape manifested as a scene of resistance, defiant of the reality of devastation that prevailed around them.

Section Five:
The PLO produced many posters that juxtaposed the image of keffiyeh-veiled fida’iyin brandishing their weapons with that of the Palestinian natural landscape, associating the fida’i with roots, trees, sun and various other elements of the landscape. Such depictions asserted the centrality of struggle to the reclamation of the homeland and affirmed the fida’iyin’s organic link to the land for which they fought.

Section Six:
Flowers and Anemones
Red flowers, the anemone in particular, are common symbols of death in many cultures. The anemone is mentioned in various mythologies, including that of the Canaanite god, Adonis. It is also a frequent subject in poetry. The red anemone, which blankets the plains and hills of Palestine, was used in Palestinian political posters as a symbol of national identity, one with a unique visual language. In Palestinian folklore, it is a symbol of blood, martyrdom and love, often employed by Palestinian writers and poets, among them, Mahmoud Darwish in his poem, ‘the Beloved has Bled Anemones’:

𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘭𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘥 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘣𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘢𝘯𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘯𝘦𝘴,
𝘚𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘵𝘰𝘱 𝘳𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘴 𝘱𝘢𝘭𝘦𝘥
𝘍𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘴𝘩 𝘭𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘳
𝘛𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘳𝘦𝘥,
𝘈𝘯𝘥 𝘸𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘧𝘭𝘰𝘸𝘦𝘥 𝘳𝘦𝘥
𝘛𝘩𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘷𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘴𝘱𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘨…
𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘨𝘴
𝘞𝘢𝘴 𝘭𝘰𝘷𝘦’𝘴 𝘣𝘭𝘰𝘰𝘥, 𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘺 𝘨𝘰𝘥𝘴
𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘵,
𝘐𝘴 𝘣𝘭𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘨𝘰𝘥𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘦𝘭 
 *Translation by Omar Odeh

Section Seven:
Reclaiming the Orange
The orange was reclaimed as an iconographic element in Palestinian visual identity after the Jaffa orange had been appropriated and marketed as an Israeli product and trademark. It had appeared in Zionist commercial advertising posters as early as the 1920s. The orange re-emerged as a Palestinian national symbol in paintings and posters by artists such as Sliman Mansour and Jamal Afghani. It was also depicted as an element of agency, a metaphor for a modern Palestinian identity characterised by struggle. It was depicted in posters as a weapon, at times tearing walls down, and in other instances, breaking a knife, as in posters by Marc Rudin and some by Helmi el-Touni.

Adele Jarrar (Palestine, 1992) is a visual culture writer and critic. She obtained her BA in architecture from Birzeit University in 2016 and is currently completing her master’s degree in art and cultural management at Leuphana University. Jarrar, whose work is informed by her interest in analysing the power structures underlying imagery, has had wide-ranging experience in design, research, writing, and curation.
She was commissioned to write for numerous platforms and magazines, including Lifta Volumes, Institute for Palestine Studies, the Funambulist, 7iber, and the Art Columnist. She has also assisted in curating Cities Exhibition 5: Gaza Reconstruction, and City of whom?, and has recently contributed a story to Reworlding Ramallah: short sci-fi stories from Palestine.

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