Aritst Ron English, recently interviewed here on the Amoeblog about his new books and interviewed again here for this report, has just returned to the US after a most interesting visit immediately before Christmas to Palestine where he was a part of the unique Santa's Ghetto Bethlehem 2007 art project. He joined several other "street artists" from around the world, including renowned British artist Banksy (the project's mastermind).
While in Bethlehem Ron posted his art on the controversial Palestine wall and fence as well as in places nearby the wall. The unique ongoing annual art exhibition was held in Bethlehem this year by Banksy reportedly in the hope that it would focus attention on the poverty of the West Bank and draw tourists back to the traditional birthplace of Christianity.
To the left and down below are some of the pieces by Banksy. Immediately above and below are two of the pieces by Ron English. All of these pieces along with many others were posted on the website SantasGhetto which, note, in the days before posting this blog, had just been been "closed" but may be open again. Meantime, check out both Ron English's Popaganda site where on the first page is a segment titled "This Christmas in Bethlehem" and also Banksy's main website.
Banksy created the Santa's Ghetto project six years ago when he felt that the spirit of Christmas was being lost. "It was becoming increasingly uncommercialized and more and more to do with religion, so we decided to open our own shop and sell pointless stuff you didn't need," said the artist in a statement at the time.
Since then he and other artists operate during the month of December out of a small store on Oxford Street in London but this year the project hit the road with the goal of adding art and improving the local economy.
Tourism, a major source of income for the local economy, has been hard hit in recent years with Israeli checkpoints keeping most of the local Palestinians in and all but the most determined tourists out. As a result, levels of unemployment are high and money is scarce and Banksy and the other artists hope to change that through their art.
The wall has long been an issue of major controversy. As reported by CNN, Israel says the purpose of the barrier is to prevent terrorist attacks being launched from the West Bank. Palestinian leaders however say the barrier amounts to an illegitimate land grab by Israelis, setting unilateral borders for an eventual Palestinian state.
I caught up with Ron English yesterday to ask him a few questions about this project.
AMOEBLOG: What was it like there, compared to other places you have done your work?
RON ENGLISH: It was similar to painting this squatted school in the East Village in the 1980's. The police had the building surrounded and they threatened to shoot me when I climbed out onto a second story ledge to paint a mural. It was also a bit like painting the Berlin Wall.
AMOEBLOG: How long were you there, how many pieces did you put up in all, and what were some of the reactions?
RON ENGLISH: I was there for a week. I spent three days working on the wall and the rest of the time I was given a tour of the region and I also created pieces for Santa's Ghetto. Everywhere I painted or put up posters people thanked me. It was a warm experience.
AMOEBLOG: Were all the other artists there simultaneously or was the work posted staggered over a period of time in December?
RON ENGLISH: There were two waves of artists. I was in the second, along with Swoon. My friend Max
and Swoon's friend Max also came along to help. The kids from the refugee camp also helped.
Artist Ron English's work above and two below by Banksy