Painters from Sinai fight terrorism with art

Everybody in Sinai’s hotspots suffers but suffering the most are the artists.

More forceful than weapons. A visitor viewing a painting showing a woman carrying her baby and running for safety exhibited in the Sinai fair in Cairo. (Provided by Hassan Abdel Zaher)

2017/07/30 Issue: 117 Page: 22

The Arab Weekly
Hassan Abdel Zaher

Cairo - Painters from Sinai are be­coming part of Egypt’s war against terrorism in the north-eastern Egyp­tian peninsula. Their strategy is to fight the terrorists with their art, confident that paint­ing and colours can be as strong as arms and ammunitions.

“Art can even be more force­ful than arms,” said artist Mustafa Bekir. “While arms can kill a ter­rorist or force him to hide, art can eradicate terrorism as an idea and give hope for a better future.”

Bekir and other artists have ex­hibited many paintings at the Cairo Opera House.

They said they are aware that many terrorists hate art and decid­ed to fight them with the weapon they most loathe and even dread.

The artists’ paintings are full of resolve and hope but also reflect rampant violence in parts of Sinai that afflicted residents of the pen­insula, which borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

One of the paintings shows a woman whose headgear seems to have just been taken off. Her un­tidy hair falling on her shoulders and the tears dripping from her left eye denote the enormity of the suf­fering and fear she has sustained. These feelings cannot, however, eclipse the determination her right eye shows.

Another painting depicts a wom­an totally dressed in black, carrying a baby and running to safety. The woman uses her teeth to hold her headscarf, reflecting extreme keen­ness not to show her hair.

Many paintings show the hope, unity and harmony that Sinai resi­dents enjoy, even as Islamic State (ISIS) militants make life difficult.

One of the paintings displays a church and a mosque standing side by side. The crescent and the cross on top of two buildings seem to be hugging each other, even as they are not so close. Behind the two houses of worship, there is green­ery and above them there are the three colours of the Egyptian flag: red, white and black.

Another canvas pictures a wom­an standing outside her home, re­fusing to leave it despite surround­ing destruction.

The artists said the paintings il­lustrate life in Sinai under terror­ism, bombings and fighting.

“The people of Sinai live in dan­ger and know that they are at the front line of Egypt’s war against terrorism,” said artist Mahmud al- Biblawi. “Nonetheless, they refuse to leave their homes and are ready to die to defend these homes.”

Terrorism and counterterrorism operations have turned parts of North Sinai into no-go areas for ci­vilians. However, some are caught in the middle of the battles pitting the Egyptian Army against ISIS militants.

Egypt has been fighting militan­cy in Sinai for almost three years. ISIS-affiliated militants have car­ried out major attacks against the army, including the recent killing of 23 troops at an army outpost in Rafah, near the border with the Gaza Strip.

Everybody in Sinai’s hotspots suf­fers but suffering the most are the artists.

“The terrorists hate artists be­cause they know that with their brush and a few colours they can create a totally different world, one full of hope,” Bekir said. “The terrorists do not want hope to be present at all, which is why they destroy all good things and spill the blood of the innocent.”

The Sinai Artists’ Fair, which took place in Cairo for 11 days in July, was inaugurated by Egyptian Minister of Culture Helmy al-Nam­nam. The exhibition is to tour other parts of Egypt.

“The aim is for Egyptians in provinces outside Cairo to see that art can be an effective weapon in the war against terrorism,” said Nagat Farouk, the head of the Ministry of Culture department responsible for the organisation of art fairs nationwide. “The artists coming here only have their brush and some colours and they are us­ing them to alleviate the suffering of those affected by terrorism and give them hope that there are good days ahead.”

Visitors expressed admiration of Sinai’s artists’ courage in the face of the militants. They said they were particularly touched by Biblawi’s painting of the woman trying to hide with her baby.

The artists, standing next to their paintings, explained the circum­stances that inspired them.

“These drawings are the bullets we shoot in the heart of terrorism and ignorance,” Biblawi said. “Al­though we want to capture what is going on, we also want to give people hope that ongoing violence will come to an end. There will be a happy ending sooner or later.”

Hassan Abdel Zaher is a Cairo-based contributor to The Arab Weekly.

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