PETER MORTIMER reports on the latest events in the trip to Tyneside of the Palestinians from Shatila Refugee Camp, Beirut.
The thirteen Shatilians will leave three artistic legacies behind when they depart from Tyneside; their main project is creating a row of eight large spray-painted boards, to be mounted and displayed at Tynemouth Station on Tuesday.
Yesterday (Sunday), a long brick wall at The Trojan Rooms, Whitley Bay received the Shatilian treatment while on Saturday the wall of an old railway arch at The Sage, Gateshead was given the full spray-can once over.
In their protective white zip-up hooded safety suits plus face masks the ten youngsters and three teachers cut a strange sci-fi pose, and though for their first efforts, the work was tentative, under the careful nurturing of artists Faye Oliver and Anthony Downie, slowly their confidence and skills improve as to the sounds of the hissing cans they help build ornate modern tapestries, complemented by several of the young artists proudly signing their names in Arabic.
Watching them come to terms with the technique and skills, discovering the disciplines of form and colour, reminds you what great potential this art form has. A week before none had even picked up a can, yet at the Trojan Rooms they transformed an entire wall in only one hour into a psychedelic celebration.
One of their teachers, Khodor Dannan talks of nurturing teams of similar artists on many Beirut refugee camps to help transform some of the drab walls – and why not?
The Shatilians took the chance to see some ‘official’ modern western art in the vast display halls of the Baltic Art Gallery, Gateshead, but seemed slightly less than overwhelmed by Mark Wallinger’s thousands of pebbles on dozens of chess boards, or Richard Prigg’s mountain cabin containing its own mountain. “Please Peter, what does it mean?” asked one.
They were more impressed with Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet where, plonked in the middle of forty speakers, the listener is totally consumed and possessed by Thomas Tallis’ reworking of renaissance choral music, whose power, coming at us from 360 degrees, almost sweeps us up into the air.
Was this a portent of the planned Beirut work next year where we hope to create a Shatila Choir to perform both in the Lebanon and the UK?
Such has been the publicity of this visit that many people stop the group to talk or just to shake their hands. In The Baltic a woman,Theresa Dixon shoved a £10 note into my palm.
“Sorry it isn’t more,” she said, hurrying off, reluctant to give her name (I insisted). In a similar incident at Tynemouth Station Market on Sunday a woman pressed several pound coins into my hand.
Today there’s a trip to BBC North East in Newcastle, the final touch-ups on the major painting, and a reception at the Linskill Centre, North Shields, hosted by VODA.
Tomorrow the boards will be mounted at Tynemouth Station and unveiled before an invited audience. The youngsters will also don beautiful hand-embroidered Palestinian costumes to perform the traditional Palestinian dance, The Dabke.
If any event were to symbolise the cultural fusion of East and West, the historic and the modern, then this surely is it.