Helen Morgan in ArtAsiaPacific:
Throughout extended periods of political conflict in Palestine, artistic practice has emerged as a critical tool. In the face of cultural annihilation, art helps bring the fight for survival to the world’s attention, offering a unique perspective on military occupation. Artist Rana Bishara explores the complex issues that have emerged in the region following decades of hostility and injustice. Drawing from both collective memory and individual stories, Bishara makes works that explore irrevocable trauma and distress, yet simultaneously encourage strength, hope and resistance. Her paintings, installation art, sculpture and performance constantly employ symbolic materials and imagery and, while highly political, are thought-provoking and sensitive. These works reflect the range of emotions interwoven in the fabric of the Palestinian experience and are threaded with the recurrent themes of displacement, home and exile. ArtAsiaPacific met with Bishara to discuss symbolism and the role of art in resistance.
You used a cactus to make your piece Homage to Prisoner Hanaa al-Shalabi in Israeli Prison on Her 32nd Day of Hunger Strike(2012). Can you explain why you chose this material?
Cacti are the only things that remain of the 531 villages and towns that were destroyed and depopulated in the 1948 war. They mark the locations of villages and serve as fences. I collect them from the fields outside the villages, viewing them as elements of Palestine. I dry them, work into them, plant them and they begin to grow again. A cactus is so strong, so resilient. There was a big hunger strike of Palestinians in Israeli prisons—there are around 10,000 prisoners—and I am now carving some of their faces into cacti, in order to give hope and patience.In Arabic, the word cactus, “sabar,” means “to be patient.”