What this wont be is a critique. Just a brief blog about an idea that has been swimming around in my head for a while. I had heard of this Children of Gaza Exhibition before and it got me thinking of how wonderful it would be if a similar effort is done in Yemen, one of the youngest Arab states. Lo and behold, a twitter friend drew it to my attention and today I went. These are my impressions.
Saturday was billed as the launch of the exhibition in London as one of its many stops. So I thought I will go the day after that. Today. Obviously I was very excited. I even gathered a few friends who were very interested in going there as well. Upon arriving at the venue, which was the lobby of the East London Mosque, I headed for the reception to ask where the gallery or venue is. He pointed behind me. I turned and looked. Literally, two blue felt covered screens covered with sketches, behind a table with postcards of the drawings, booklets on Gaza, and a glass box which urged filling in the postcards with messages to be sent to the British Prime Minister. There wasn’t even anyone there.
This ‘exhibition’ lists two sponsors, Oxfam and the Australian Government AusAID. Below the gallery are my thoughts on what I saw and how I imagine a Yemeni Exhibition could learn from this, both its positives and its negatives. Click on an image to enlarge.
First of all, what did I learn about how and what children draw? I have never met a child’s drawing I never liked. Children are innately amazing artists but why is that? I am not a child therapist or psychologist, but I think I understand why. When you approach an adult who doesn’t usually draw with a blank sheet and a pencil and ask them to draw something, be ready for a long painful and protracted wait. It is as if you asked them to do something very very difficult. The fear of failure is usually the most evident sentiment. Adults have preconceptions of what makes a good drawing. Somehow the process is frustrating and fear inducing. Children have no such issues. Children aren’t obsessed with perspective, scale, proportion, or aesthetics. To them it is just another way of expressing and internalizing their consciousness, their thoughts. Children draw to tell a story, present a narrative, and place themselves within it. It is, as expected, completely about them. What they see, and how they interpret it. Drawing ,for kids, serves the same function as writing does to an adult. Except maybe with kids they don’t seem to be preoccupied with convincing you, the viewer of something. They simply seem to be trying to tell you: This is who I am. This is what I think. This is what I see. This is what is important to me. This is why I find kids’ work so engaging. The other thing that amazes me about kids is their approach to the blank page. I hate the blank page. I wish I didn’t. It makes every start like protracted labour with many false starts. Kids don’t seem to have a bad relationship with blank space. It seems to be an inviting space for them. It is there to be filled. They have a natural ability for composition that I am at a loss to understand where they get it from.. A natural flair for abstraction. How and where things are placed in relation to each other. In short, children are good artists because, consciously or not, they have an easy unfettered access to self expression. They have no hang ups. There is no good or bad. That is something happens as they grow up and learn to compare and conform. All adults can draw. All adults can make a good drawing. It is simply a process of getting them to get in touch with this ability that they had as a child: To feel free and liberated from rights and wrongs, success and failure, good and bad, and to just be.
Having missed the launch, I have no idea about how these drawings were obtained and for what purpose and that’s important. Is this an attempt by Oxfam to help kids do something fun? Is it aimed to fund raise ? Is it aimed at giving a snapshot into the minds of 50% of the population of Gaza? If it is aimed at giving us a snapshot then I’m not sure if it has. how many sessions were there before this selection was made? Did it include a representative cross-section of demographics? How would these drawings compare with those of children in Al-Quds for example? What was the method applied to produce these drawings? What is it really like to be a child in one of the poorest, most densely populated open prison ghettos in the world? What kind of adults will these children become? Can we get a glimpse of that from what they are drawing today? Isn’t it important, if we really mean when we say the children are our future, to put more efforts in projects like this? Judging from the quotes provided, the children of Gaza, are preoccupied with their environment. As with all children of their age group around the world, nearly every drawing has a house in it. This is because the home is the most important thing to them. It is the source of comfort and security where they begin to define themselves in relation to the world around them.
It would be wonderful to see something similar to this exhibition done by Yemeni children. If I was in a position to be able to make this possible, I would take it to an edgier level. I would get the children to make an exhibition for their adult counterparts. A message from the children of Yemen to their elders. Why? Because aren’t they the future? And isn’t it true that the previous generation has already earned the reputation of being the first generation that is leaving a lot less for the next one? And isn’t it true that we do a lot in their name? Why not hear from them for a change? What do Yemeni kids make of the Arab Spring? What does Al-Qaeda mean to them? What do they think the akhdam are? what are their needs? What do they want their surroundings to be like? What are their needs? what troubles or saddens them? How do they see the outside world?
The question is are there enough WISE adults who know how to bring this out of them without telling them how or what to think? To be honest and sincere enough to include ALL of Yemen’s many and diverse demographics? Wouldn’t a well thought out and well executed project such as this provide a wonderful snapshot of where Yemen’s children are, and as a result provide a wealth of insight? I don’t think there is nothing wrong to exposing children to a variety of political, economical and social questions, rephrased in a precise, well researched way by child art experts, in a way that does NOT influence them one way or the other. Cover all demographics imaginable. Curate it in an honest informative way. Then sit back and see what our children are telling us..
If I was in Yemen.. If only I was in Yemen.. I would love to be part of something like this.. Anyway.. It’s just a thought..