interview with Yasmine Jarba

Art in Gaza – Interview with Yasmine Jarba

It is not easy to introduce this interview with Yasmine Jarba. Nor is it easy to account for the overflowing intensity that, during the interview, Yasmine Jarba brought to us in her reflections. At first, we wanted to focus the interview on Yasmine as an artist, narrowing down her artistic practice. However, in the end, the complexity of an artistic creative attitude comes out. As editors, we can say that this attitude is implicitly inextricable from the materiality of reality. Speaking about the identity of Palestinian art, as Yasmine does, does not mean sticking artistic products to a national spirit in an idealistic sense. Thus, it means making the empirical and material roots that enable the development of a habit clear. Yasmine speaks of the communicative will: a forceful voice that seeks spaces and ears to be heard.

Interview with Yasmine Jarba – edited by Matteo Cristiano and Gianmarco Gronchi

G. G. – First of all, we really would like to know more about you. Could you tell us about your story and why did you decide to settle in Milan?

Y. J. – I’m Yasmin and I’m from the Gaza Strip, for the Al-Bureij camp. I’m an artist and a teacher at the University. I have a background in educational studies, but I have been working as an artist for five years. I attended many classes to deepen my artistic practice with famous artists in Gaza. When I was 30, I came to Italy to introduce the project of the House of Women in Gaza as an artist. We made a trip to many cities in Italy and at that time I started looking for an art scholarship here. At that time, I was looking for scholarships from schools in Britain, Norway, and the US, not in Italy. When I came here, I told myself that maybe it would be easier to find a scholarship in Italy. I found an opportunity in Naba, but the scholarship didn’t cover all the tuition fees. I tried to collect some money, but then they told me that they had another full scholarship and that I could apply. After one week they called, and they said that I had been selected. I had many problems getting a Visa in Gaza because the situation there is very bad. You have to send your passport and the documents to Jerusalem, and it takes like one week to check them. After two weeks they decide whether they return every document to you with the Visa or not. After this step, in Gaza, you have another difficulty: it’s how to get out of there. So, I went to the office. Everyone goes there to make an appointment, and it can take more than three months to book one – it depends on the situation. Because I am a student the process was quicker, but then they gave me an appointment to get out of Rafah and go to Egypt on the 7th of October. Nonetheless, that date was too late, and I had to leave earlier. In the end, I was able to leave on the 2nd of October and I could fly to Milan. Someone might say I’m lucky.

Interview with Yasmine Jarba
Yasmine Jarba, from the series Dark City, 2021 – ongoing

M. C. – I think you’re lucky, aren’t you?

Y. J. – I am? Maybe, I don’t think so. I’m not happy. After one week in Italy, on October 7, the conflict broke out. When I woke up, I felt very bad because, on the first day, they said they freed Palestine, and I was not there. But then Israelis started to have criminal behavior to make genocide for our people. We are in the fourth month of open war and all we ask for is a ceasefire. For me, the situation is unacceptable because every day we listen to attacks by the Israeli army. They came and destroyed our villages and cities, they killed civilians. This is not the first time we have seen this. My people are forced to live in tents at the moment. They call me every time. They don’t have food to eat, and they have many diseases. It’s terrible for them.

M. C. – From a certain point of view, maybe you’re lucky to be here in Italy. How do you feel here? What do you feel about the Italian people supporting Gaza and Palestine?

Y. J. – I appreciate Italians supporting our cause. I went to many events since the conflict started and there are a lot of people who care about the situation in Palestine. I can feel that they understand the situation and they show love for Palestinians. People must have freedom of thought, and not just follow the government’s propaganda. I also think that there is no middle ground, either you are with us, or against us, and lots of people here took our side. They say Palestinians have the right to defend themselves. As you know, this is not the first war in Gaza. We have suffered a lot for 75 years. We cannot suffer anymore because of Israel.

M. C. – What does it mean to practice art in Gaza?

Y. J. – In Gaza is very difficult to work. We try to create lots of artworks and exhibit them as much as we can, but the situation is tough. Even when you have beautiful artwork, it is difficult to find a space to show it. I feel like Palestinian artists have a case inside their hearts, and they want to show it to the world. In Gaza, we have been living in a siege for 17 years. So, we grew up with the war, with this violence escalation. For this reason, even when we want to draw something beautiful, even when we create art, we have to face this situation. We have our artwork fixed in Palestine. Our artwork speaks about Palestine, and it could not be otherwise. As you can imagine, the artistic scenario in Gaza is completely different from here. We have just one or two art foundations in Palestine. We just have one university teaching art. And if you want to take a master’s degree, you don’t have a chance because we don’t have this type of course in our university. Moreover, most people just want to live their lives and have food and a good salary to feed their children. They don’t care about art because they have different priorities.

Interview with Yasmine Jarba
Yasmine Jarba, from the series Dark City, 2021 – ongoing

G. G. – I’ve seen from your portfolio that you work with many different mediums. I was just wondering how you managed to combine these different practices.

Y. J. – As an artist, I want to try everything. I learned about art in Gaza, and that influenced my practice a lot. Every time I decide the right medium to give people the message. I like photography but sometimes, for example, using video art empowers the message. It depends on the project, and sometimes I mix the media. I think this is part of the Palestinian way of doing that is slightly different outside Gaza.

G. G. – As far as I can see, all your work is related to the condition of Palestinian people. Do you think that your art is mostly related to the Gaza political situation?

Y. J. – I think my artwork is not about politics in a straight way. It is more about our hopes and dreams. I can express this in my artwork. I aim to make people aware of what I want to do in my life. Of course, most of the artworks realized by Palestinian artists relate to the Gaza situation. I lived in Gaza, and I did not have a normal life as people outside of Gaza. Therefore, in every painting I have a story to tell, to make people conscious about what it means to live like that. When I start painting, I want to send a message. A strong message. I want to use art as a tool to share this message. The only thing Palestinian artists can do for their country is show the world the situation.

G. G. – One of the most interesting projects you realized recently is called Dark City. Could you tell us something about it?

Y. J. – Dark City is a project about what it means to live without electricity. In Gaza, you often have no electricity. Sometimes blackout lasts more than twenty hours. Dark City is a project about our feelings without electricity. I take a cup of tea without light. I listen to the music without it. And every time you stay up late, you walk in the streets without a light. You may just have your phone. I wanted to show how difficult doing normal activities with no electricity is. 

interview with Jasmine Jarba
Yasmine Jarba, from the series Dark City, 2021 – ongoing

G. G. – Right now, I am at the Royal College of Art in London. There are both Palestinian and Israeli students here, even in my class. On the one side, I see every day the brutal slaughter of Palestinians. On the other side, I also have to relate to Israelis who lost friends and relatives during the Hamas attack. It is a very tricky position because I know what is at stake and what it means in terms of human lives. I stand with peace, not violence, but it is very difficult to mediate when things escalate so quickly. I am wondering what you think about Israeli civilians who suffered losses by Hamas. I know that there are lots of Israelis who do not support their government. For those of us who never experienced that, it is rather very difficult to understand what to do.

Y. J. – When I went to do the first lesson, there was a girl from Tel Aviv. But after one week I realized that I couldn’t stay in the same place with her. I don’t want to change my master’s course, but I can’t stay with an Israeli. Maybe it’s because I’m Palestinian but every time I think about my people and my family. I feel guilty if I sit down or stay in the same place with this girl from Israel. My friends and my family suggested not to speak with her. They said that I could just ignore her and focus on my goal. On the other hand, some other friends told me that she might be a good person and that she might not support her government. But then I think that they are living in our cities, while I lived in a refugee camp. They want peace, but at the same time, they occupy our old place. As a Palestinian, and as a girl, I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t want to speak with these people. I just cannot shake my hand with them and say we are going to be sisters. For me, it’s impossible to accept this situation.

Born in the Al-Bureij camp, she is a Gaza-based artist specializing in abstract painting, installations, and conceptual photography. With a concentration on self-learning, she has mastered a variety of creative disciplines and has participated in local and international exhibits and festivals.