Looking through children’s eyes to Gaza

This photograph, along with other art works from the travelling exhibition, will be shown in Fredericton April 19 (Submitted)
This photograph, along with other art works from the travelling exhibition, will be shown in Fredericton April 19 (Submitted)

An upcoming exhibition at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre will give Frederictonians a look through the eyes of children in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

The travelling exhibition, A Child’s View from Gaza, is a combination of 26 pieces of children’s artwork and 10 photographs showing the events of the three-week war, which started in December 2008.

Lisa Anne Ross, director of arts development at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, is excited for the work to come to Fredericton. She thinks it’ll be powerful covering the walls of the small Penny Gallery on the first floor of the arts centre.

“I think it’s a really beautiful exhibit. It’s an extremely polarizing issue. People have really strong emotions about what’s going on in Palestine and Israel. Often, the coverage we get in the West is from a very adult Western perspective. We don’t often get to hear the voices of regular people, particularly children.”

She said the exhibition is unbiased because it’s simply how the children interpret their lives. They were asked to draw about the war in 2008 and 2009, life in Gaza or hope for the future.

The artwork was gathered by Susan Johnson, a Philadelphia-area activist for Palestinian rights. She travelled with a group of American activists to Gaza in May of 2009.

They visited hospitals, refugee camps and schools. After they went to a children’s art therapy class, they decided to bring children’s drawings back.

“The exhibit seeks to raise people’s awareness of the human price of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and force people to question their attitudes on the subject,” reads a factsheet on the artwork from Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, a non-profit organization based in Montreal.

The president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, Thomas Woodley, said it allows for comparisons between the drawings and the reality of what the children may have seen.

“The emphasis is on how children from Gaza perceive their world and how they communicate that,” he said.

One piece he finds particularly moving shows a boy cowering in the corner of his bedroom with an Israeli soldier standing in the same room.

“It violates the whole idea of your home being your sanctuary.”

He said there’s a photograph that mirrors the artwork. The photo, taken by an Israeli photographer, shows soldiers in a Palestinian home.

Drawings of landscapes and cities show fire and destruction. Some of the artwork shows dead bodies, but not in a sensational way, said Woodley.

“What’s most chilling is it’s almost done in a matter-of-fact sort of way…It’s almost something children see way too regularly.”

A factsheet from Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East says the conflict has left a heavy psychological impact on children, with 92 per cent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study by the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.

Woodley hopes the exhibition will show New Brunswickers similarities between the children of Gaza and children here.

Lisa Anne Ross said the exhibition allows Fredericton residents and students to examine the issue in a new light.

“I think as a student that’s very important because you’re always trying to get a balanced picture of things. It’s really difficult to get a balanced picture of Palestine just from our news alone…I think maybe there’s a possibility for the work to create bridges between the two perspectives.”

The exhibition will run for a month, starting with an opening reception on April 19.

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