[Pnews] Art Against Imprisonment - From Palestine to the U.S. - A Visionary Website

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon May 31 11:19:03 EDT 2021


  ‘Art Against Imprisonment – From Palestine to the U.S.’

May 28, 2021

      *A visionary website is launched*

*/by Diana Block and Nadya Tannous/*

On Sunday, March 21, 2021, a powerful virtual art exhibit featuring art 
from incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in occupied Palestine 
and the U.S. was launched. “Art Against Imprisonment – From Palestine to 
the U.S. <https://artagainstprison.org/>” grew out of a history of 
active solidarity between movements against imprisonment in the U.S. and 
Palestine. It is a testament to the creativity, imagination and 
brilliance of the many people who resist the invisibility, isolation and 
repression of prisons and claim a liberated space through their art.

The exhibit was first proposed by Addameer Prisoner and Human Rights 
Association as a physical touring art show in fall 2019. With the 
emergence of the COVID pandemic, which shut down in-person activities 
across the globe, the coalition of groups that had first committed to 
working on the in-person show shifted it to a virtual art exhibit.

Milena Ansari, international advocacy officer for Addameer, described 
Addameer’s goals for the art show: “We wanted the exhibit to inform the 
public about the international scope of prisoner resistance to 
oppression and injustice.”

According to Ansari, the virtual platform actually has many advantages: 
“It allows prisoners a continuing platform to exhibit their artwork and 
creativity and enables many more people around the world to appreciate 
their art. It also facilitates sharing updates on issues concerning 
prisoners in Palestine and the U.S and builds an ongoing connection 
among all of our solidarity groups.”

To bring the virtual art exhibit to life, five U.S.-based organizations 
came together to work collaboratively with Addameer: Arab Resource and 
Organizing Center (AROC), California Coalition for Women Prisoners 
(CCWP), Freedom Archives, Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) and U.S. 
Palestinian Community Network (USPCN).

Our organizations have all been involved in the fight to dismantle the 
carceral systems that uphold white supremacist, colonial power. We’ve 
seen how the U.S. and the Israeli apartheid state have closely 
cooperated in the development of their prisons over the course of the 
last 60 years.

They have joined forces to devise similar methods of carceral control, 
such as interrogation, torture, solitary confinement, child 
imprisonment, family separation, sexual violation and enveloping 
surveillance techniques. They have also shared their strategies and 
resources with many other countries, using those incarcerated as proxies 
for experimentation.

*/Art by incarcerated people confronts the U.S. and Israeli apartheid 
state regimes of oppression and injustice. Art breaks down barriers, 
walls, gender norms, languages and, in many cases, the social and 
political infrastructures that are used to separate our struggles./*

In an essay marking the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party in 
2018, Ahmad Sa’adat, Palestinian political prisoner and general 
secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), 
wrote: “Prisons exist for a reason, for the needs and interests of those 
with power … where there is occupation and colonization, there will be 
prisons and all of the laws and legal frameworks erected to legitimize 
exploitation, oppression and injustice and criminalize resistance and 

Art by incarcerated people confronts these regimes of oppression and 
injustice. Art breaks down barriers, walls, gender norms, languages and, 
in many cases, the social and political infrastructures that are used to 
separate our struggles. It has inspired solidarity between our movements 
against imprisonment and toward collective liberation.

To create the exhibit, our groups solicited submissions from 
incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and their families across 
Palestine and the U.S. We received art in many formats and mediums, 
representing the tremendous variety of ways that people in prison devise 
to express themselves and their politics.

There are distinct sections for paintings, drawings, quilts and 
embroidery, poetry, pottery, prayer beads and art objects and 
calligraphy. As visitors to the website, we urge you to explore the work 
in order to fully appreciate this unique collection of artistry across 
borders and mediums.

Other sections of the website provide short biographies of the artists, 
resources on imprisonment and suggested actions that the visitor can 
take to fight imprisonment in Palestine and the U.S. All pages of the 
website are presented in both English and Arabic with a Spanish version 
coming soon.

Our group collectively envisioned the logo for this art exhibit, created 
by Heba Hamarshi from Addameer. The logo represents a common commitment 
to break through the prison walls with the fist of (self)-determination 
and the spirit of sumud – steadfastness.

Artist Naji Al-Ali writes: “The child Handala is my signature … I gave 
birth to this child … and presented him to the poor … At first, he was a 
Palestinian child, but his consciousness developed to have a national 
and then a global and human horizon. He is a simple yet tough child, and 
this is why people adopted him and felt that he represents their 
consciousness.” Al-Ali was assassinated in 1987, but Handala, called “an 
immortal symbol of Palestinian defiance,” lives on.

Handala, the child standing with their hands clasped behind their back, 
was first created by Palestinian artist Naji Al-Ali in 1969 to represent 
the forced displacement of Palestinian people from their homeland. 
Handala has become a Palestinian national symbol of resistance and has 
grown to have a global significance. Naji Al-Ali wrote that Handala “was 
the arrow of the compass, pointing steadily towards Palestine. Not just 
Palestine in the geographical terms, but Palestine in its humanitarian 
sense – the symbol of a just cause, whether it is located in Egypt, 
Vietnam or South Africa.”

The “All Power to the People” fist, designed and popularized by Frank 
Cieciorka in the mid-1960s, has become a symbol not only of the Black 
Liberation Movement, but for global resistance and liberation.

*/Hafez Omar, an award-winning Palestinian artist, was imprisoned in 
2019 for the “crime” of inspiring people through his art./*

The launch event for the website featured moving presentations by some 
of the website’s artists and their family members. Kevin Cooper, who was 
wrongly convicted and has spent over 30 years on California’s death row, 
sent an impassioned statement to the event.

He wrote: “As the oppressed African Americans over here are being shot 
by the police for any reason and no reason at all, the same is being 
done to the people of Palestine by the police and military over there … 
They are forced to live against their will in the world’s largest 
open-air prison, the Gaza strip, yet they keep their dignity, their will 
to live and their self-respect intact.” Kevin Cooper has two paintings 
in the exhibit – one titled “Free Gaza,” spotlighted on the website’s 
landing page, and a portrait of Bob Marley.

Linda Evans, who served 16 years in U.S. federal prisons for 
anti-imperialist actions, described the importance of getting art 
materials in prison: “Being able to access color in the drab and uniform 
surroundings of prison really made a difference to my mental state.”

She described how mothers were able to communicate with their children 
by making them a drawing or a toy. “I view solidarity with Palestine as 
a bottom-line principle of anyone who is striving for international 
global liberation,” she asserted.

*/Shukri Abu-Baker is serving 65 years in prison in the U.S. for the 
crime of giving money to Palestinians as part of the Holy Land Five case./*

Anmar Rafeedie, a cultural worker and longtime member of El-Fanoun 
Palestinian Dance Troupe, explained that growing up, her home was filled 
with art from her parents, which they had made while they were in 
prison. “Art resurrects life, which is why when they want to install 
collective punishment in colonial Israel prisons, they take away 
artistic tools, such as beads and strings, which prisoners would use to 
make gifts for their loved ones.”

Naima Shaloub, a U.S.-based Lebanese vocalist, brought the power of 
music to the event when she performed a song called “Roumieh Prison 
Blues.” She wrote the song with incarcerated men in Lebanon’s Roumieh 
prison when she visited.

Nida Abu-Baker spoke emotionally about her father, Shukri Abu-Baker, who 
is serving 65 years in prison in the U.S. for the crime of giving money 
to Palestinians as part of the Holy Land Five case. When she was growing 
up, her father painted murals all over their house. “Now, every time 
something major in our life happens, he’ll send us something to cheer us 
up and to cheer himself up. Events like this one today make him so 
excited and so happy because he knows that his voice is actually going 
to be heard, even though he’s in a small prison cell.”

Hafez Omar, an award-winning Palestinian artist, was imprisoned in 2019 
for the “crime” of inspiring people through his art. Among his many 
political posters, he had created many in solidarity with prisoners, 
including his brother. As a prisoner himself, art took on a new 
dimension. Hafez explained, “To keep drawing inside the prison was my 
simplest way to say you’re not winning over me. I’m not defeated, I’m 
still drawing, I’m still doing the thing that you took me to prison for.”

Oscar López-Rivera, a Puerto Rican former political prisoner who served 
36 years in U.S. prisons, concluded the event. “As we become creative, 
we also transcend some of the negative spaces that we have within our 
minds. We transcend a lot of the insecurities that we have within 
ourselves as a colonized person.”

Oscar-Lopez-Palestine Belongs to Palestinians.jpg
"Palestine for Palestinians" was created specifically for /Art Against 
Imprisonment/ by Puerto Rican artist Oscar López-Rivera. Oscar is a 
former political prisoner who served 36 years in U.S. prisons, accused 
of seeking independence for Puerto Rico. His art, along with the art of 
Palestinian and American formerly and currently incarcerated political 
prisoners, is included in the “Art Against Imprisonment – From Palestine 
to the U.S.” exhibit up online at https://artagainstprison.org 

Oscar called on everyone to support imprisoned artists and to grow the 
art exhibit. “I hope that we will be able to come together again just 
like we have today. And little by little solidarity will grow among all 
of us. I believe in reciprocal solidarity and we need to maintain a very 
close connection with Palestine!”

In the coming months, “Art Against Imprisonment” hopes to take up 
Oscar’s call to expand the art exhibit, reach out to more artists, their 
loved ones and advocates, and strengthen the reciprocal solidarity 
between our struggles for freedom and liberation.

For more information, please visit our website at 
https://artagainstprison.org <https://artagainstprison.org/>, like and 
share our social media pages @artagainstimprisonment and please email us 
at artagainstimprisonment at gmail.com 
<mailto:artagainstimprisonment at gmail.com>.

/Diana Block is a member of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners 
and Nadya Tannous is a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement. Reach 
them by email at //artagainstimprisonment at gmail.com/ 
<mailto:artagainstimprisonment at gmail.com>/ and follow 
@artagainstimprisonment on social media./

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