Against All Odds: Creating Art in the Gaza Strip

by Lindsay Shapka in ,


If you think you've met a struggling artist before, think again.

Tarzan and Arab (real names Ahmed and Mohamed Abu Nasser) are 25 year old twins who were born and raised in Gaza City where theatres don't exist (the last one was destroyed a year before they were born), and artistic expression is considered to be pornographic.

Despite the odds stacked against them (and thanks to their amazing father who was a former teacher), these twins make art and films anyway. Using whatever they can get their hands on — according to the curator of the exhibit, they have used ketchup and crushed herbs to create pigments for their pieces — their work is vivid, colourful, dreamlike and presents a utopian version of Gaza rather then the violent, war-torn city that exists in reality. Despite the tight restrictions and horrors of war, the men love their home and consider it to be paradise (according to curator Kelty Pelechytik). 

Today you’re going to struggle, tomorrow you’re going to struggle, the next day you’re going to struggle, but eventually you won’t. It is art for art’s sake. If you do work that satisfies you, you don’t need anything else. It is all worth it for when you see someone in the street and they say. ‘Oh, I saw your movie.’ This keeps you going forward.
— Arab Abu Nasser

Their work has been shown in exhibits around the world (New York, London, Dubai), and they have won awards and international recognition for their creations. They have only been able to travel with their work a handful of times (mostly secretly), and in 2012 were forced to flee Gaza because their family was receiving death threats from fundamentalists who disproved of their work. They now live as refugees in Jordan, without permission to travel, unable to see their family, yet still creating art. In 2012 they were named among the 50 Most Influential People in the Middle East by Al-Monitor

Currently, their FIRST solo exhibition, This Is Our Land, is on display at the Latitude 53 gallery in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. All of the paintings displayed are for sale, priced from  $1100-$3000, and ALL proceeds will go directly to the artists. The average monthly income in Jordan is $700 CAD and, according to Kelty, if all the paintings in the exhibit sell, it will allow Tarzan and Arab to survive (and continue creating art) for a full year!