All photos by Michelle Sayles
Six artists from Vermont and one from New Hampshire have come together to create a visual representation of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Think of Others” in collaboration with Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP). The ten panel display debuted at the 2016 Burlington Art Hop exhibit this past September, offering visitors a new interpretation of one of Palestine’s most renowned poets.
“Think of Others” asks readers to reflect on their lives and recognize their privileges. The right to speak and access to running water are reconsidered by Darwish through the eyes of “those who have lost the right to speak” and “those who are nursed by clouds.”
The detailed paintings inspired by the poem depict the apartheid wall, and refugees sleeping under the stars or standing in the direct path of a tank.
“I was taken by it completely,” Wafic Faour, a Palestinian resident of Vermont and member of VTJP, said upon first seeing the artwork.
“We thought the universal themes spoke to the Palestinian experience, but also to so many experiences of those who’ve been oppressed,” said the project’s coordinating artist, Michelle Sayles. “We wanted it to be a chance to show through this artwork how the struggle of the Palestinian people is not unlike that of other people in the world.”
Seven illustrated panels interpret each stanza of Darwish’s poem. One depicts a refugee family awake in the night under a bed of stars, the mother looking deep into the viewer’s eyes. “As you sleep and count the stars, think of others,” writes Darwish, reminding viewers not to forget “those who have nowhere to sleep.”
Darwish, who died in 2008, is well-known as a Palestinian poet-laureate and for his contributions to the Palestinian cause. Born in 1946 as a Palestinian, then living as a refugee in Lebanon as a child, Mahmoud returned to his homeland and was jailed multiple times for his poetry against the Israeli occupation. Darwish lived much of his life on the run and was often covertly smuggled by his allies over land and sea to safety.
“If you look at his life,” Faour of the VTJP said, “he lived it all.”
Shedding more light on Darwish’s dissident views and the struggle of the Palestinian people was the main goal of the VT art project. “We live in a self-described, seemingly utopian area, and there are a lot of people interested in social justice,” said Sayles about Burlington. “And yet I think a lot of folks aren’t engaged in thinking about this issue. This is a critical time for folks in Palestine. [VTJP] is trying to figure out how to break through the general apathy and educate folks who aren’t engaged.”
“Think of Others” is the VTJP’s second public art installation, following a ‘street comic’ last year about the life of Najawa, a fictional Palestinian woman navigating her country throughout the decades of occupation.
Alongside the artwork at this year’s Art Hop exhibits and events, VTJP volunteers also took the opportunity to spread the word about their other efforts, including a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s Israeli franchise in protest of Israel’s occupation and militarization of Palestine.
Both the poem and the paintings offered another view of Palestinians, Faour explained, an alternative view to the daily news that often portrays his people as violent terrorists. “Darwish’s poetry can talk to American people now more than any other time, because [the United States] has people who don’t have clean water, we have people who are living in shanty towns,” he said. “You don’t need refugee camps and tents to talk about refugee-hood.”
Thomas Rose is a young writer from New England and an intern at TowardFreedom.com. He can be reached at trose17[at]gmail.com.