Unfortunately – it was Paradise.
Under Seige by Mahmoud Darwish
Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do, And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.
Walking over the ancient stone cobbles of the Muslim quarter of the old city of Jerusalem in May 2016, and holding in my hand, the diary my Mother wrote 55 years ago when she too visited the city, and wearing the large silver filigree pendant my Father bought for my Mother in 1961 from one of the bazaar sellers, I was suddenly overwhelmed by flash backs from my childhood that was spent in the Middle East (Kuwait and Abu Dhabi) and I began to sense the enormous task I am undertaking on behalf of an a-n Travel Award and an Arts Council England Artists International Development Award, and with the generous additional support from British Council Palestine, the Palestine Paralympic Committee and Kvinna til Kvinna.
Now in Palestine, my mission was to develop cultural relationships to enable me to contribute to the social change through artistic engagement, and to build cross-cultural relationships with my collaborators and artistic partners in UK, with the intention of ultimately developing a large artistic project.
The first few days of the research trip focused on my personal artistic work, and gave me the opportunity to explore the Old City of Jerusalem, and through psychogeographic meanders through the city, I was able to learn and understand more about the history and culture of the ancient city and the significant 1947 partition plan, and to witness how religious groups now occupied the city and how the partition had ultimately divided both the land and the people. Meetings were organized with many artists, gallery directors and NGO officers, all working in the region to support the disparities that have manifested since partition occurred in 1948.
As part of this R&D I was able to initiate a series of workshops gatherings in collaboration with Field Officer Magnea Marinosdottir from Kvinna till Kvinna, British Council (Occupied Territories ) and with the Palestinian Paralympic Committee. I therefore had the chance to collaborate with many disabled artists and athletes, and also the Bereaved to Bereaved Women’s Group of Jerusalem. The workshops enabled me to meet with over 100 individuals to build the foundations for a proposed sustained artistic collaboration in the future.
The Bereaved Womens group is supported by the Women’s Studies Centre and Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation. These workshops were particularly intense, emotional and at times harrowing in narrative content, but somehow out of the human struggle of these women’s experience, powered articulations became sensitive drawings that transmitted the real depths of their current suffering.
Through my artistic practice I explore notions of being human; I am particularly motivated by perceptions of fragility, survival and hope experienced by vulnerable individuals and communities across the Globe. As an artist I am both disabled and visually impaired and I am drawn to cross cultural projects that collaborate with individuals that may not necessarily have a voice that is heard within society.
The nature of the conflict in the region meant that these are desperate narratives that were being related but through the process of making art, and through creativity laughter could be heard, for a moment, once again amongst everyone I met and collaborated with.
The bursary opportunity enabled me to not only meet many artists and collaborators in the West Bank region but also build strong relationships and foundations for the creation of a sustained UK/West Bank future artistic collaboration.
There was also the opportunity to meet with key ministries, decision makers and NGOs who share the motivation to find meaningful ways to empower disabled people across the region through the arts, these included Palestine Red Crescent Society, Stars of Hope, the Higher National Committee for Persons with Disability Card, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Social Affairs, Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, Al-Basmah Rehabilitation Centre, Art Court Al-Hoash, START-Bethlehem, Women Studies Centre and Kvinna till Kvinna, Al-Ruwwad Cultural Centre at Aida Refugee Camp and the Palestinian Paralympics Committee, the onward vision is supported and collective.
My work is ultimately cross cultural and when I returned from Palestine I has met with Prof Annie Coombe of Birkbeck University, The Creative Industries Heads of Departments at London South Bank University, where I was recently awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University, the Directors of Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and also the Director of the Milton Keynes Islamic Art Festival, with the intent to build the cross cultural UK element of my vision. Each of the UK partners will be supporting partners for the creation of a sustainable collaboration.
I will always be grateful to the funders for supporting this truly incredible journey and for this memorable creative experience to happen.
British Council Palestine (Occupied Territories) invited Gadsden to return to Palestine in January 2017 to co host an exhibition of all the work that was created during the R&D trip with her Palestinian collaborators. The Exhibition supported by the Prime Minister of Palestine and opened by the Minister of Culture was accompanied by a Symposium – “Disability & Arts: Challenges and Successes” 23-27 January 2017.
Gadsden presented at the opening reception and at the Symposium and lead a series of workshop sessions.
It was with huge excitement, in March 2017 Gadsden was awarded an Unlimited International R&D Commission for It was Paradise – London – West Bank – Liverpool and Gaza.