When the state of Israel began constructing its ‘separation barrier’ through the West Bank, it never anticipated that the wall would become a living gallery of resistance, crowded with images and words of defiance. This creative response to injustice is by nature impermanent (one day the wall will fall) and even now is subject to constant change as parts are added or effaced. Which is why William Parry has performed such a valuable service in documenting it.
There’s an amazing range of styles, from painterly expressionism through pop art parody and cartoon minimalism. Desperate pleas for help and solidarity (‘EU, UN where are you?’) alternate with expressions of misery (‘Dead city’, ‘No hope’), political indictments (‘This is a land grab’) and deadpan, sometimes cryptic irony (‘Here is a wall’, ‘I want my ball back!’, ‘Been there done that’, ‘Nothing to see here’).
Many of the artists make ironic use of the very structure on which they’re painting. A rampaging rhino seems to smash a gaping hole in the wall. A man prods a finger into a spot on the wall from which a network of cracks spreads outwards. ‘CTRL+ALT+DELETE’ reads one large-scale slogan. Everywhere, the more polished artworks, many contributed by artists from abroad, merge with casual, sometimes crude, popular graffiti – as it should be.
A white dove lies speared and bleeding. Eyes peer through barbed wire mesh. A raised fist holds a beating heart: ‘Your heart is a weapon the size of a fist.’ There are donkeys, camels, flags, faces contorted with rage, people sniffing flowers.
The graffiti is in many languages and filled with echoes of faraway struggles. Ben Franklin is quoted (‘Those who don’t stand for something will fall for anything’), as is Bobby Sands (‘Our revenge will be the laugher of our children’) and Immanuel Kant’s first rule of enlightenment: ‘Sapere Aude!’ (‘dare to know’).
The book documents not only the art but the crime of the wall. Deploying hard facts and compelling vignettes, the photographic and verbal evidence he presents leads to the inescapable conclusion that the purpose of the wall is not the protection of Israelis but the slow strangulation of the Palestinians.
One slogan that is found repeatedly on the wall is ‘To Resist Is To Exist’. This is a book that allows us to see and feel what that means.