You had in mind the «fertile Palestine» when you chose green, as you have mentioned before. Were there other instances with similar communication problems.
One problem was that
the posters had to be designed to be posted in the camps, in its narrow
alleys, in Palestinian homes. But they were also to be used for information
campaigns abroad. You had to compromise with regard to using symbols as
well as with regard to the text. Lets have a look at the symbols: on one
of the posters I have drawn a wall with a whole in it in the form of Palestine.
My non-palestinian comrades didn't understand the hint at first sight,
but when I asked a fifty year old Palestinian (he later was murdered in
the massacre of Sabra and Shatila), who couldn't read or write and was
guarding the office, he immediately said with pride, «Falestin».
Did you yourself bring the original to the printer and was the printing done as a routine more or less as you wished, or did you have the possibility to be present during the printing process?
It was not done just
having finished a nice drawing and then placing some sort of a text somewhere
on the paper which then got printed somehow. The poster had to be good
as a print not only as a rough draught. I put very much stress on the
cooperation with the printers. At the beginning this was difficult because
of communication problems. My Arabic was not that good at first and the
workers in the printing shops or the repro-photographers didn't speak
any foreign languages. Very often their shops were also in the «hot» districts
close to the «Green Line», which divided East from West Beirut. The chiefs
didn't like to let me go there alone. It took me some time to find out
how to handle these difficulties.
You were not tied to your office then, to a world of functionaries, who were only responsible for a small segment of the common cause but screened off from the rest of the world, screened off as well from the entanglements but also from the soberness of the «common» people. They usually feel less and less responsible for the progress of the cause.
Shutting out the
division of labour was perhaps the most fascinating thing:
Have you also been helping with the distribution of the posters?
The posters were posted by the Palestinian Youth Organisation called «Shabiba». In the Shabiba the young people of the camps met to discuss or to educate themselves further. They organized football games, chess or ping-pong tournaments. They also had a musical and a singing group, as well as a Dabka dancing group and a brass band. All activities were meant to cherish the cultural heritage of the Palestinians. Many fighters and cadres of the Palestinian resistance were recruited from the Shabiba. And I almost forgot to mention it: the Shabiba also organized painting and drawing courses, and exhibitions. This was always done in close cooperation with the graphic artists. A lot of the feedback to my posters, which was very important to me, came through people organized in the Shabiba.
In our correspondence you have been using the male gender of the german term for artist. You have done quite many posters for organizations of women, which would be rather out of the question in Western European centres. Are there no female graphic artists ?
There was no woman designing posters. There were only a few men anyhow. This might have been the result of the absence of figurative representation in Islamic culture lasting for ages.
One of the most beautiful posters of this kind is the one you did for the second congress of the Union of Palestinian Women. We can see the back of a woman carrying a basket on her head which is filled with stones instead of fruit. She is standing in front of the silhouette of Jerusalem. The traditional role of the woman as the beast of burden and the bread winner of the fighters is subversively turned around - but it is still her who is providing fresh supplies. Also the beauty of the details on her clothes are very impressive. Couldn't this as well consolidate traditional gender roles: women are represented through their appearance, men as being fighters (Kuffiya)?
I didn't have in
mind the provision of supplies but I wished to show a Palestinian woman
collecting stones as ammunition for herself. The embroidery on the clothing
is a very important symbol for Palestinian women, which in graphic terms
fulfills the need of simple representation. The Kuffiya is in fact not
a representative symbol of the women, but only women under arms carry
it. Embroidered clothing is common among the women of the camps. The Women's
Union itself was always asking me to use it as a symbol. Besides, the
poster was especially designed for Palestinian women who should recognize
themselves. Adversecriticism shows a too narrow point of view of the European
Which policy of the Palestinian resistance was the background of your work as graphic artist during the seventies and the eighties?
Most of the Palestinian
refugees live in Arab countries. Because most of them didn't have the
means to travel far, they live in states with a common border to occupied
Palestine, mainly in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The relations of the Palestinian
resistance movement to the governments of these three countries and to
Arab governments in general is a long story of mutual mistrust. On the
one hand the movement has got to be present where the Palestinian masses
live. On the other hand Arab governments have always tried to instrumentalize
the Palestinian resistance movement for their own goals. Over all these
years a large section of the movement has learned to work in this field
offerees. Of course this has not always been that easy. The civil war
in 1970 (Black September) that has been started by the regime of Hussein
under guidance of US imperialism led to an open breach with Jordan. Only
through the radical democratic power of the masses towards the end of
the eighties the movement became again present (over 50% of the population
in Jordan are Palestinians).
You were forced to leave bombed out Beirut as well and had to retreat to Damascus. How did this change influence your work?
The Syrian regime
continued the attempts to instrumentalize the movement according to the
political situation with more or less pressure. The Syrian secret services
managed to split the Fatah movement and supported Fatah dissident Abu
Mussa (1983). In 1986 they managed to instrumentalize the Shiite Amal
movement in Lebanon which resulted in the war the Amal forces led against
the Palestinian refugee camps of Beirut and Saida.
I can imagine that you had the idea of producing coloured woodcuts because of these difficulties. You were able to avoid censure, which had put the printers and photographers under pressure.
In 1988 the information
unit of the PLO in Tunis ordered a series of posters from the various
artists of the Palestinian resistance movement that should support the
Intifada. I was asked as well. As mentioned above it was very difficult
to bring the originals out of Syria. The risk to loose them was always
there. If this happened to the repro-film you could make a fresh one.
But the information unit wanted to have the original, as repro and print
would be done in Tunis. So I had the idea of trying a three-coloured woodcut.
If one pattern should get lost I could easily make another one. If you
are making woodcuts in Europe you go to a specialized retailer and buy
the material and the tools you need. In Damascus I had to go to the merchants
who sell wood to the carpenters. I had to run around for quite some time
untill I found a good plank of walnut. A carpenter prepared it for me
with a worn-out plane. The next question was: how do I get proper knives?
Would there have been the possibility to produce small editions with the technique of woodcutting if the connection to the printers would have been interrupted?
It's a pity that
this was not possible because we did the posters in three colours with
the same block. I first did the carving for the bright colours which we
printed. Then, on the same original, I cut the holes for the second somewhat
darker colour. We printed this on the first print in glazing technique
and so on. Through this technique we achieved different shades of colours
on top of one another. On the original finally remain only the cuts for
the last and darkest colour. That's why this technique is also called
But you kept on producing conventional posters?
Yes, in summer 1991
for example I was asked to design a poster against the suppression and
expulsion of the Palestinians from Kuwait. Because the Syrian government
had taken side with the US and its allies in the Gulf war, no Syrian printer
could be found to do the poster. The repro-photographers as well were
very afraid to cooperate. After running around for some time I found this
kind of an eccentric amateur who was working alone and had no employees.
He was ready to do it for a small extra price. It was two o'clock in the
afternoon with everybody in Damascus at Siesta. He had accepted under
the condition that I would fetch the films at four o'clock and pay cash.
He didn't want to have «hot stuff» in his shop for long. Usually he would
have worked on it for two or three days.
Detainees Facing Zionist Repression -Free the Pioneers of the Independence
April 17th - Prisoner`s Day - Free All Palestinian Prisoners [May. 1984]
April 17 th - Palestinian Prisoners Day - Free the Detainees
March 9th - Martyr`s Day
March 9th Matyr`s [March 1988]
Hatem Al Sesi - First Matyr of the Intifada for Freedom and Indenpence [Dec. 1988]
A State is born [Dec. 1988]
Towards Palestine 2 nd Congress - Damascus August 1990
2 nd General Congress - The Congress of the Glorius Intifada - Steadfastness and Confrontation, Damascus August 1991
All the Glory to the Intifada of the Courageous People - The Yoouth Organizations in the Arab Countries
PFLP - 20 Years of Struggle