Feb 12

Amandla! Israeli Apartheid Week, 8 Years Strong

Israeli Apartheid Week is right around the corner so I decided to post this image of IAW-Toronto posters over the past 8 years. IAW has spread from a single university campus in 2005 to 97 cities in 2011, proving that nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. The nature of this growth is reflected in the posters from 2009 onwards, which offer a general image for collaborating cities to customize based on the timing of their own events and language needs.

IAW was started by students at the University of Toronto. I arrived in time for the second IAW, but I was more or less oblivious. I remember seeing IAW represented in the student press as a snowball fight between Palestine supporters and Zionists. The message was that they were both equally detestable, which was effectively a victory for supporters of the status quo.

But over time the rabid condemnation of IAW has clearly backfired, only bringing greater attention to the BDS campaign, and more scrutiny of those who continue to make uninformed arguments about IAW being a hate-fest.

A lot can change in a year. By 2007 — after taking some time to educate myself and developing personal relationships with people doing this work – I was putting up IAW posters and helping out with events.

In 2009 some friends and I put up the poster on the right as a response to the tearing and defacement of Carlos Latuff’s IAW poster. At Carleton University in Ottawa, the administration saved vigilantes the hassle of doing their own censorship by banning the poster outright, an act that can’t be understood outside of the wider context of malfeasance by partisan administrators.

This year’s wonderful poster was designed by Nidal El Khairy, one of my favourite artists, who also created the images for 2010 and 2011. In my piece on migrant justice political graphics, I mention how his work is a good representation of the connection between Palestine solidarity and immigrant rights organizing:

While in Montreal, illustrator Nidal El Khairy worked with the Coalition Against the Deportation of Palestinian Refugees, one of many groups under the umbrella of Solidarity Across Borders. El Khairy draws Palestinians and his work is often used by the Palestine solidarity movement …

The intersections in El Khairy’s activism between migrant justice and Palestine solidarity is itself an illustration of how these struggles are linked. Palestinian refugees are denied the ability to return to their homeland due to the backing Israel receives from members of the international community such as Canada, while Canada and other states deny Palestinians the ability to move in their pursuit of dignity and respect [by deporting them to refugee camps]. 

No One Is Illegal March on Ottawa, 2005 (illustration by Nidal El Khairy)

Jan 12

I <3 Palestine

Top: “Free Palestine” (~2001, San Francisco); Left: “Nakba 60″ (2008) by Jesus Barraza; Right: “A Woman’s Place Is In Her Students’ Union” (~2005) by the Canadian Federation of Students

One of my go-to tools for online image research is TinEye Reverse Image Search. When you upload an image or provide a link, TinEye scours the web for every instance of the image in use. To some degree, it is able to detect similar versions of an image that may have been modified. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much help tracking down the original source of the photograph at the top of this post. The image was all over the place but seemingly never referenced.

At this point I turned to Oakland-based artist-activist Jesus Barraza from Dignidad Rebelde for help. Jesus used the image in his poster to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nakba in 2008. Although he didn’t know the answer, Jesus was also curious and generously offered to post my ask on his Facebook. Amazingly, when DR’s Melanie Cervantes shared the ask on her page, the women in the image were identified by a cousin less than 20 minutes later.

The story of this image, or rather the search for this image, is an interesting illustration of two faces of online culture: one, how ubiquity can deepen anonymity by reproducing an image out of context hundreds if not thousands of times; and two, how the much-hyped connectivity of social networks can help crowdsource research (and put anonymity on an endangered species list). Context is not static, it is actively given and taken away.

An important aspect of Jesus and Melanie’s art is how their work comes full circle by honouring the original context of their sources. In their own words, “we create work that translates people’s stories into art that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspire it.” The outcome of this process is often quite powerful. As a testimonial to this effect, one commenter on the crowdsourcing note wrote:

I remember telling you & Jesus, how moved I was when I first saw the graphic image of this treasured picture. It means the world. I keep both images in my heart. Thank you.

For me and so many others who encounter their work, this is the type of design that offers a definitive answer to the question “Can design touch someone’s heart?”

The Woman’s Place poster (right image, based on “A Woman’s Place Is In Her Union” with Rosie the Riveter) also has a place in my heart. I think it is one of the first political posters that I was exposed to. I remember it hanging up in the office of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, a group I started organizing with while in high school. But after finding the original image, it’s taken on a new meaning.

Comparing the two images, you can see that all of the visual references to Palestine have been filtered out. Keffiyehs are made into plain (but still “ethnic”) scarves. Gone are the Palestinian flags and even the face-painted Arabic letters that spell out “Palestine”. The image, and by extension the organization producing it, is supposed to be anti-racist because it prominently features women of colour, yet it erases the anti-racist & anti-imperialist issue they were organizing around.

Turning an image with a such a specific context into a sanitized generic representation is a dramatic departure from the spirit of their participation and the feminist anti-racist message the poster intends to convey.

But I also want to locate myself in this critique. I remember a time when I was designing a migrant justice demo poster and used a photo of some people I knew marching in a contingent. I was looking at photos from the previous year’s demo and picked this particular image because I liked it the best. I’d like to say that I didn’t alter their messaging, but I did crop the image, and make it black-and-white to fit within the scheme of the poster (which was certainly more about the general messaging of the demo rather than their specific contingent’s messaging within it).

Knowing the people in the image, I should have asked for their permission. It’s one thing to participate in a public demonstration and another thing to have your faces featured on thousands of copies of a poster across the city. And politically, it’s one thing to organize a contingent where you put forward and control your own chants and messaging and another thing to have someone else re-interpret your participation – your essence – for a new purpose, even if closely related.

Getting consent is obviously difficult if you don’t take a photo yourself or know the people within it. And I’m an advocate for remixing culture, for creatively re-using and re-interpreting the material from our visual environment, but that doesn’t mean that ethical considerations are thrown out the window. Remixing an image is a political act, not necessarily a progressive one. If anything, this post is a helpful reminder for me about the need to be more attentive to these issues.

In & Out: “Students Against Racism”, Canadian Federation of Students; “QuAIA Deputation” (2011), Queers Against Israeli Apartheid

Mar 11

BDS Day of Action

I put together this simple street poster for the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid’s (CAIA) Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Day of Action.

The inspiration came from the BDS logo below (unfortunately I could not track down the creator), photos from Tadamon in Montreal and an older book on Palestine I picked up a few years back at an annual university used book sale.

The book has articles from a number of Palestinians in Canada, including Nakba survivor Naji Farah, who I remember speaking wonderfully at Israeli Apartheid Week in 2008 and upstaging the event’s supposed headliner Ward Churchill. One of the best talks I’ve ever seen and fortunately it’s been preserved in video.

Palestine and the Palestinians: A Handbook (Toronto, 1989), Near East Cultural and Educational Foundation of Canada

Nov 10

Palestine Poster Project

I am floored. I was just introduced to the Palestine Poster Project curated by Dan Walsh.

Dan has gathered nearly 4000 images from over 900 artists dating from the early 1900s to the present. Most of the earlier works come from Zionist development agencies, while the collection from the 1960s onwards reveals the massive output of posters and graphics produced in support of the Palestinian people and their liberation.

Taken together, they are a tremendous resource for learning about the history of Palestine and Israel in the present context, especially since Dan has put so much effort into finding translations and contextualizing individual images, even beginning to assemble a “new curriculum” that draws on the communicative force of these posters.

He has written a great article about the significance of the Visit Palestine poster:

“With this one poster pulled out of the Zionist attic, three core myths are debunked. The first myth is that Palestine had ever been a land without people. Obviously someone lived in these houses and someone tended these gardens. The second myth is that Palestine was a vast desert awaiting cultivation. The resplendent tree in the foreground suggests that the land surrounding Jerusalem was much more than barren desert. The third myth is that there never was a Palestine. Of course there was a Palestine, and here it is, called by name in a Zionist-published poster.”

This is exactly the type of work that I am interested in doing, and I was actually able to draw on some of the boat images I have shared on this blog in recent No One Is Illegal workshops at schools and universities.

Hopefully I am not being rude, but I just had to share some of my favourite images from the collection. I tried to be somewhat representative, though I also noticed that I gravitated to a number of images that I had encountered already, which had already found me, and taken root in different spaces and places where we have honoured this struggle for Palestinian liberation and its relation to our own and the many others we hold with us.

And should you be so moved, there is a super cool Imaging Apartheid poster contest underway right now.