The Collegian
Thursday, July 09, 2020

Israeli-Palestinian conflict depicted by artist

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict breathes life into Wael El Sabour El Kader's art. Although he is inspired by nature, the Egyptian pyramids, and the "utopian society" of Alexandria, Egypt, he is most passionate when he speaks about Israel and Palestine.

The ongoing fight between the nations inspires his most striking work, including his favorite print titled "The Wall," a collagraph -- a print that uses acrylic paint to create texture -- of an imaginary wall separating the Israelis and Palestinians. His voice, sometimes too low to understand, gets louder when he speaks about politics. He turns toward the audience, shoots his arms into the air and moves them as he speaks.

A Fulbright fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University with a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Cairo, El Kader specializes in prints, particularly collagraphs that incorporate Egyptian history and the fight for Palestinian rights.

El Kader gave a lecture March 24 at the University of Richmond Puryear, where he also showcased his art on display. This was the last stop in the United States before he started a similar circuit at universities in Egypt.

His 2001 series of 75 prints, titled "Rocks," kicks off the historical section and illuminates the majesty of the scenic world in Egypt.

"Look at the beautiful, ever-changing effect of lights and shadows on [the rocks] which really turns them into live creatures," El Kader says as natural rock formation prints flashed onto the projection screen during the talk.

He pauses, letting his words have their space. He glances at the print a second time before moving on to speak about Ancient Egypt. The rocks are not only reminders of the vast natural world, but of a vast, sophisticated civilization, he said.

"Ancient Egyptians used rocks to build temples and tombs, document every aspect of their lives as well as their imagination of the life after, to write about their fears, their wishes, to mourn death and celebrate life," he said.

They and their rocks also inspire El Kader's work. Many of the prints show the painted hallways of the pyramids at Giza. The colors, still intact after thousands of years, decorate the drawings of men, women, gods, and calligraphy.

The second part of his presentation inspires a fervor in the room, even though he introduces the prints by saying that he has left out the most graphic of the bunch. The audience looks a little disappointed.

"Being a citizen of a country in the Middle East, I am deeply affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which affects everyone," he said. "You [Americans] are here. You are not exposed to what is happening there. But if you live there in the Middle East, you will see a whole different perspective and you will be exposed to it every night ... There is no censorship of this stuff in the Middle East.

"You'll see people shot in the streets in front of you. I'm not exaggerating. All of what I say is documented, documented in images and in videos and by westerners who have been living there."

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When the prints are displayed, they are passive but potent. Palestine's rule and land shrivels before our eyes and Israel becomes a dangerous, feral superpower. El Kader tells us that Israel Defense Forces bulldozed Rachel Corrie, an American student who traveled to the Gaza strip in 2003, twice during a protest against the demolition of Palestinian homes.

His third section is dedicated to Alexandria, Egypt, which El Kader says is the cradle of a peaceful, diverse utopia. Boats and water are the central themes. But it is not long before members of the audience begin to ask questions and none of the queries concern the boats.

El Kader's comments against Israel spark a long, heated debate between professors and other audience members. Voices grow so loud that El Kader's small, high voice strains to overcome them. The students have a hard time asking questions, so many of them leave the adults to their discussion. Even El Kader seemed eager to leave.

El Kader's artwork disappears as he shuts down his computer, half-listening to the shouts of the others. Though the images remain quiet and timeless and the conversation has drifted from art for art's sake, their stories are safe, swaddled in paint, ancient Egypt and the imagination of their creator.

Contact staff writer Jordan Trippeer at jordan.trippeer@richmond.edu

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