Art with a political edge

Razorwire at Bil'in
Razorwire at Bil'in
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PHOTOS and paintings depicting a visit to the troubled West Bank in the Middle East can be seen at Scarborough Hospital until 29 August.

Imprinting Palestine, by writer and artist Gilly Collinson, promises a fresh look at the West Bank.

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The works are mainly photos, including large prints on canvas, plus four paintings. They are the first of a new body of work that Gilly is building up following a life-changing journey she made earlier this year.

She explains: “Back in 1976 I spent a term of my art degree course studying at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem. I was young, naïve, unworldly – I knew nothing about the underlying situation in Israel.

“When term ended I spent three months on a kibbutz, then toured around the country, heading south. It was in Eilat that I was literally awakened to the reality of Israel.

“Sleeping on the beach amongst a small group of fellow travellers, we were awoken by rocks and stones landing around us. The man throwing them was, to my eyes, old; perhaps 50. Half naked, he ranted at us in Arabic. He was Palestinian, and he was a broken man. I saw his grief and finally registered the human tragedy that was taking place all around me. At that moment Palestine was imprinted upon my mind.

“I can still see that man. I wanted, then, to tell him that we were not to blame. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that this is not true. If we do nothing, we are all to blame. As is often quoted: ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’.

“In March this year, 35 years after my first visit, I returned. I went to towns all across the West Bank: Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron. I went on a school patrol in al Bwayre, where the international presence is the only thing that makes it possible for local children to walk to school free from abuse or attack.

“I attended the weekly protest in Bil’in, where for years despairing villagers have marched to the barrier that cuts them off from their land. Even the Israeli high court decreed that the barrier was illegal and in 2007 ruled that the government must re-route the wall: it finally did so a few weeks ago, although much land remains appropriated.

“Like the locals, I was tear-gassed and targeted with vile-smelling skunk water: unlike them, I could choose to leave.

“It is difficult, in England, to imagine having one’s land taken away without recourse to justice. But Palestine is shrinking by the year as Israeli settlers move into the West Bank, and exclusion zones are created around them. The day in 1948 when Israel was created where Palestine used to be, is known as the Catastrophe, but things have got so much worse since then, and worse even since my initial 1976 trip.

“I didn’t plan, whilst I was in Palestine, to make it the subject of my paintings, but once I returned home I realised it was impossible not to.

“I am baffled by how much we don’t know about what is done to one people by another. I am dismayed at the struggle that is daily life for a people who were unlucky enough to have something so beautiful that it was coveted and taken away from them: Palestine.

“So the photographs I took this year are my raw material: my inspiration to start creating work to exhibit. Of course it is only one small gesture, but I believe it is important to show solidarity.”

The photos and paintings are in the Hafney exhibition space, on the first-floor corridor of the hospital’s north wing.