By Pam Bailey, director, We Are Not Numbers
Among the sympathies pouring into Paris from all over the world are messages from the Palestinians of Gaza, for whom such terror has been a regular occurrence for decades—particularly for the past six years, during which they have suffered through three major assaults by Israel. Despite their own pain, which is frequently forgotten in the press of other crises, they are uniquely positioned to sympathize with the trauma of others.
Malak Mattar is a Palestinian from Gaza and just 15, but she is old beyond her years, having lived through three major attacks on her home. And her latest painting is a gesture of sympathy with those suffering in Paris after the terrorist rampage there. “I love Paris because it symbolizes happiness to me,” she says. “I feel sorry about what's going on there now, so I painted this.”
Malak didn’t start painting until 2014, when the 51-day Israeli assault was raging around her Gaza City home. Like other children, she found herself bored and anxious a lot, since it was not safe to go outside. So Malak started painting to “discharge all of my negative energy,” she explains.
The watercolor above is one of Malak’s first, and she has progressed dramatically since then. When asked to describe what it means to her, she says: “It tells me about Malak. It shows the fear I felt, and when I look at it, I remember the sound of rockets. But it also shows hope despite the destruction. This picture makes me remember the strength I felt when I first held a [paint] brush."
Malak had been given some cheap paper and water colors at her government school, and it was all she had at hand at the time of the assault. Soon, though, she discovered she has a budding talent and loved the self-expression the “colors” allowed. She has been painting ever since, although now with acrylics on canvas.
This painting (above) depicts Malak’s love of reading (English is her favorite subject, although like a typical youth her age, she says she hates school). “When I close my book, I feel jumbled-up and absentminded. Books help me regulate my thoughts.”
Malak only will say about this painting that it has meaning for her, but she never says what it is because she wants viewers to see their own messages in her work. That’s also why she resists giving titles to any of her paintings.
One of Malak’s goals for when she is older is to connect with international artists and travel abroad for an exhibition. “That's everything I need to do in my life,” she says. “My hope and my dream is to travel abroad freely, with no restrictions.”
Pam Bailey is founder and international director of We Are Not Numbers, a project of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor that links developing writers living under occupation or in refugee camps with published mentors to share their personal narratives. Follow the project on Facebook and Twitter.