Academic journal article Material Culture

Painting Emotions: The West Bank Separation Wall as an Evocative Object and Graffiti as a Meaning-Making Process

Academic journal article Material Culture

Painting Emotions: The West Bank Separation Wall as an Evocative Object and Graffiti as a Meaning-Making Process

Article excerpt


The West Bank Separation Wall (Figure 1) in Palestine has been the subject of heated debate both locally and internationally. The idea for the construction of the Wall emerged through several plans suggested by the Israeli Labor Party in 1988 (Ibheis et al . 2012) . The Israeli government claims that the construction of the Wall is rooted in efforts to increase security from "terrorist" attacks, yet there is evidence that suggests its primary role is to create a barrier in order to facilitate plans to build new settlements and enlarge existing ones . In this process, more land is annexed and new borders are redrawn for the state of Israel (Ibheis et al . 2012) . Israel began building the "Apartheid" Wall in 2002 after the upheavals of the second Intifada (uprising); 1 the length of the Wall is 708 Kilometers, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency's (UNRWA) Barrier Monitoring Unit . However, the Wall is still under construction, with about 62 percent of the original plan completed . When completed, the Wall will segregate 9.4 percent of the area of the West Bank, a very fertile region used for agriculture, grazing, and containing one of the most important sources of water in the area (unrwa . org 2014) . As such, the Wall restricts the movement of Palestinians in and around the West Bank . This restriction greatly affects local markets, economic development and social interactions It has also restricted access to basic services such as health clinics, market centers and water sources (UN OCHA 2013) . This physically segregates the Palestinian people into enclaves, often referred to as cantons (Leuenberger 2011) .

Walking along the eight-meter-high Wall, in the city of Bethlehem in the West Bank, one encounters expressive pieces of graffiti painted on the grey concrete, most of which are part of the "Santa's Ghetto" project by the graffiti artist known as Banksy, the London-based organization Pictures on the Wall, and 14 other artists from the U . K . , Europe, and the United States (Parry 2011) . These artistic works demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle against the occupation of their homeland

Relying heavily on semi-structured interviews, this article describes how the Separation Wall can be understood as an "evocative object" (Turkle 2007) with regard to the role it plays in expressing and manifesting memories or feelings through the analysis of individual interpretations of the graffiti on the Wall . This discussion begins with defining the Wall as an evocative object and then progresses to explore how graffiti gives meaning to the Wall by surveying how the Palestinian people interpret it . This study seeks to answer three questions: 1) How is the Wall viewed as an evocative object among the Palestinian population? 2) How does graffiti contribute to the process of treating the wall as an evocative object? and 3) How is graffiti utilized as a meaning-making tool for this space?

This study is significant because it allows us to see beyond the actual function of the Wall as a physical barrier that separates the Israeli community from the Palestinian community Instead, it identifies the Wall as an evocative object that expresses certain emotions felt by the Palestinians whom are surrounded by it That is, the graffiti on the Wall is here interpreted as a physical manifestation and expression of various political, social and "cultural" discourses .

The Wall

In the wake of the second Intifada in April 2002 the Israeli government elected to construct a wall to separate the Palestinians from the Israelis (unrwa . org 2014) . Two months later the government approved the construction on the basis of security and protection from Palestinian attacks on Israel (Gershon 2003); it would initially be temporary, or until both sides agreed on the borders of the Palestinian state (B'Tselem 2012) . Some observers, however, have argued that the sole aim of its construction was to annex Palestinian land and to build as many Israeli settlements as possible in order to secure space for the future border of Israel (B'Tselem 2012) (Figure 2), something that has become more evident now. …

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