In pictures: Palestinian skylines are 'message of hope and resistance' says artist
Growing up in a refugee camp in north-east Lebanon, Palestinian artist Salim Assi faced plenty of hardships, which would later on go to inspire his work. Now based in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, where he moved with his family in 1992, he works at an advertising company and in his spare time makes illustrations of Palestinian cities. His latest art collection, which has been shared by numerous outlets and cultural website, is based on historical cities and landmarks from around Palestine. This image reads Ariha, which is the Arabic name for Jericho and is located in the West Bank. (All photos: MEE/Supplied)
“The difficulties I faced, from poverty to suffering, a lack of security, fear, oppression and deprivation we faced as Palestinians in the refugee camps have inspired my work,” he told Middle East Eye. Assi’s parents and grandparents were forced to leave Palestine in 1948, following the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) where over 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly attacked and expelled from their homes in order to make way for the creation of Israel. This image says 'Safad', a city captured by Israel in 1948.
Assi first got into art at a young age, with encouragement from his parents. One Arabic proverb in particular has also inspired him and stuck with him over the years. “I believe in the quote ‘innovation and creativity is born from hardships,'” he recalls. In total, Assi made 42 illustrations as part of this collection, which took him around 20 hours collectively. This one reads 'al Ramla', a city once highly valued for its strategic location which made it a key point in connecting different cities and driving the economy.
The idea of illustrating different Palestinian city skylines came to Assi as he wanted to find a way to help preserve Palestinian heritage and cement Palestinian identity. “I want to keep Palestine in our minds and hearts so it’s never forgotten,” he explains. To complete the hand-drawn and coloured illustrations, Assi uses different coloured pens which can be purchased from any art supply store. “I don’t use any specific or special equipment,” he adds. This illustration reads 'al Nasra' and shows the skyline of the city.
Being displaced from his homeland and becoming a refugee has also informed much of Assi’s work. “All people have their own land, home, and associations who they can complain to until they receive their rights. They live a quiet and secure life, but we, as refugees, aren’t treated like humans," he says. Assi expresses his feelings of dispossession, rage, and the inhumane treatment that Palestinian refugees face on a regular basis through his art. Today, he has amassed thousands of followers on social media where he shares his work, and regularly speaks out about attacks on Palestinians at the hands of settlers and Israeli forces. Here, Assi has illustrated Gaza, which has been under a land, sea and air blockade by Israel for over 15 years.
For Assi, creating images of Palestinian heritage and culture is a way to highlight their plight. He calls his work a form of "resistance art", which he believes is important in shedding light on the suffering that many face on a global stage. “Art doesn’t need to be translated,” he says, explaining that the medium allows for the message to be received around the world. He also creates murals using spray paints, acrylic paintings on canvas, and caricatures. "If I go three or four days without creating some art, I feel like something is wrong," he says. Taking any opportunity he can to create art, Assi is never without his kit. "My art kit is one of my essentials that I take with me everywhere, it's like my phone, car keys and ID." He also has a full range of colour spray paints that he keeps in the back of his car. This image reads 'Yaffa', a port city with strong historical significance.
Assi’s work has been widely shared on social media, with many re-posting and re-sharing it. “The art has been very popular around the world. I have had people contacting me from Canada, USA, Latin America and Australia,” he says. For Assi, illustrating the different skylines of Palestinian cities along with their Arabic names in calligraphy is much more than about sharing his heritage. For him, it’s about the right of return to Palestine. “It’s about Palestinians insisting on coming back to their homelands, their cities and villages. And we will, soon,” he says. Assi has illustrated some of the main landmarks in Akka, a city by the coast, in this image.
Assi says he wants to continue expanding his designs and artwork, and as requests have come pouring in for digital copies, he is happier than ever. “It makes me proud of my people and it conveys a message of hope. It shows that our people never forget their roots and that they are proud of their Palestinian identity.” This particular image, 'Al Quds', illustrates the Old City of Jerusalem, which is known for its religious significance.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.