A small collective of artists and activists under the name of Imaging Apartheid have spent the past six months calling upon their creative colleagues to submit work related to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
With a stated goal to “bring awareness and support to the Palestinian struggle for liberation through the production and dissemination of poster art,” the collective has gathered a diverse collection of posters, from which they will select the strongest images to exhibit in Montreal and several locations across the world.
We caught up with designer Kevin Lo, one of the Imaging Apartheid organizers, to find out more about the project.
Art Threat: What was the impetus behind Imaging Apartheid?
Kevin Lo: Imaging Apartheid is a collaborative poster project organised by a small collective of artists and activists based in Montreal. For me personally, starting the project was a way to make concrete links between my social justice work and my design/art practice and contribute in some small way to the Palestinian struggle for justice.
The assault on Gaza in 2008 really catalyzed my own involvement with the cause, and I designed a poster (above) for Tadamon that was distributed widely in Montreal and online. As both a “professional” graphic designer and an “activist”, the poster design made it into some interesting places and raised a fair deal of discussion amongst my peers. It sparked an idea that conscientiously designed poster art had the ability to bridge gaps, create dialogue and present an enlarged vision of the issues at stake, beyond the traditional fly-posted political poster.
There already exists an extensive and impressive Palestinian poster archive, but our goal is really to curate an exhibition of artistic posters created by contemporary artists and designers that can exist within and without the traditional activist spheres.
How is this project related to the BDS movement?
The project emerges directly out of and in firm support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign called for by Palestinian civil society, as a broad-ranging, participatory and effective strategy to apply pressure to the Israeli state. The goal is to apply cultural pressure, much in the same way that renowned musical artists are beginning to do with their decisions to not perform in Israel.
How has the response to the project been so far?
We’ve received many submissions from around the world, but we’re definitely looking for more. We aim to have a collection of 21 posters that we will print, exhibit and distribute as well as an online gallery that will showcase all the submissions.
We have noticed that many artists are sympathetic to the cause, but have a hard time visualising the idea of apartheid. I would encourage them to inform themselves on the conflict, check out activestills.org and the Palestinian poster archive mentioned above, read the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, and as cheesy as it sounds listen to their hearts.
We’ve received work from a diverse range of international artists — from Palestine, Israel, Spain, and Australia to name but a few places — from well-known graphic designers, traditional painters, illustrators and individuals that have just felt the need to express their outrage and solidarity in visual form.
What do you hope to accomplish by hosting this poster project?
On simple, practical and fundamental terms, we hope to present a collection of beautiful artworks that stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.
With this, we hope to bridge the gaps that exist between artists, activists and the general public around the issue of Israeli Apartheid. We want to draw attention to the injustice that the Palestinian people are suffering under, and we want to expand the dialogue beyond the often simplistic and heated rhetoric.
How can poster art influence international political issues, like the occupation of Palestine?
This is a big question, and it’s never a direct correlation, much like a song won’t stop a war, a poster won’t stop the occupation. But poster art, as a popular and accessible visual medium, much like popular music, helps to create the cultural environment we live in. It creates context within which we understand the world.
Art encourages and gives energy to those that are already engaged in struggle, and raises questions (maybe even providing answers) for those that aren’t. It creates dialogue and exchange and emotion that eventually bubbles up to take form on the political level. I think that’s pretty much the goal of Art Threat too, no?
Have you faced any criticism while promoting this project?
The vast majority of responses we’ve received have been very positive. We’ve certainly received some criticism, as is often the case when dealing with issues in the Middle East, particularly Palestine. Most of the criticism revolves around the BDS campaign, and ignorance of its motives and strategies. And then of course, there are the reactionary and blanket statements of anti-semitism. As a Chinese Canadian and Québecois, and an engaged and socially aware human being generally, these attacks are hurtful, but also easily discredited.
Our work aims to critique the apartheid policies of the Israeli state and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people as many anti-Zionist Jewish people are doing around the world both inside Israel and internationally.
Would you welcome a proposal to exhibit the posters in Israel?
Obviously this would depend on the context. I think this is something that critics often overlook with the BDS campaign. The Boycott is not a blanket boycott of everything Israeli, it outlines very specific targets that either contribute directly to the occupation or, often from the cultural perspective, serve to legitimise it.
If we had the right partners within Israel, we would be glad to show the work there. Several of our artists are from Israel, and I think it’s very important to support the growing resistance movement there.
The submission deadline for Imaging Apartheid is June 20, 2011. For more information visia imagingapartheid.org.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Image by Kevin Lo.