Last November, Lynne Abdulhadi “went home” for the first time. Before this visit, Palestine was an idea that resided in her head. But being on the land, breathing the air, watching the people around her filled her with a sense of nostalgia for something she had only heard about in her childhood, but that she actually had not experienced. The first thing she did was go to a beach. Hadn’t she been to one before? “But I wanted to see a beach in my home country,” says the UAE-based artist. “I arrived at 3 in the afternoon and only left at 6 in the afternoon.”
Exploring her roots also led Lynne to search for the coordinates of her mother’s village in Haifa. “I changed three modes of transportation to get there. The village was completely demolished, but I managed to see the grave of my great-grandfather, who turned out to be the mukhtar (leader) of the village,” Lynne recalls. Lynne’s great-grandfather died in 1945, three years before the nakba, but her wife and children had to leave in 1948. The story of their trip to Jordan still haunts Lynne, possibly because they had to walk to Jenin and then to Jordan. “My grandfather was 11 years old and my grandmother was three years old. Since they lived in the same area, they embarked on this journey together,” says Lynne.
Life, for many in the Palestinian diaspora, has not been the same after October 7. If anything, it has forced many to reflect on their cultural roots. For the 31-year-old artist, it has meant speaking to the world through her art initiative, Painting For Palestine. As the name suggests, Painting For Palestine highlights and celebrates different cultural aspects of the country. Last weekend, Lynne, a visual communications graduate from the American University of Sharjah and an art professor at the Sharjah Art Foundation, hosted a keffiyeh painting workshop at The Roost x Lento. She organizes similar workshops in Abu Dhabi every weekend. This week, Lynne plans to host another workshop in which attendees will paint Carmel Beach, near her hometown of Haifa, on canvas. “Let’s paint a dream,” says Lynne, who was born in Jordan but grew up in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Lynne’s father lived in Hebron until he was 22, after which he accepted a scholarship and moved to Montreal, Canada.
Although a passion for the arts took root during her formative years, Lynne decided to pursue a career in social media management and worked in that job for eight years before realizing that art was her true calling. “I also realized that there is a cultural gap, where people assume they know enough about Palestine, but all they know is the history of the conflict. Our culture is rich and I wanted to show that through my art.”
Painting For Palestine elevates the idea of an art workshop by looking at itself as a community. It is no surprise then that, after October 7, many healers have voluntarily come to the workshops to conduct special sessions for attendees to process what has been happening. “Previously, attendees were mainly Palestinians. But now there are more than 20 nationalities that attend them.”
The idea of home arises from a sense of belonging. But when you’ve visited that house only once in your life, how do you retain a sense of belonging? Lynne says this comes naturally to many Palestinian families living abroad, as they strive to teach younger generations their customs and culture so they don’t forget their roots. “We give our children necklaces, we give them stories, movies. When I was young, my parents would take me to any cultural event related to Palestine. For us, the idea was to preserve our Palestinian identity through art, food and culture.”
Lynne’s passion for raising awareness about Palestinian culture stems from the same instinct. A passion that has led her to visit a refugee camp in Jordan that houses people who had to leave Palestine in 1967. She speaks of the young women she met in the camp with a feeling of nostalgia… and survivor’s guilt, because “I could have been just as lucky, some of them didn’t even have passports.”
However, one surprising memory remains of a young girl named Reem. She “she lived in a house in which 20 other people lived. With chalk in hand, she drew symbols of Palestine on all the walls of the house, in addition to a drawing of a dove, which emphasized how important peace is for the future of Palestinian youth,” says Lynne.
Come January, Lynne plans to return to camp to train 30 girls in creating products from scratch. Lynne has already acquired a business license to be able to sell the merchandise in the United Arab Emirates and allocate the funds generated to the education of these girls. “The 30 girls she chose already have an inclination for the arts. “I want them to go to a good university.”
As an artist, Lynne is aware of the importance of healing. Shortly after October 7, she began encouraging participants to draw and write her feelings on a piece of paper as part of a project called Letters to Gaza. That grief can take many forms was evident in the varied responses she received. But one she most identifies with is a student who drew and wrote extensively about feeling lost. “She wasn’t connected to her home the way she should be. There was a feeling of helplessness, which is exactly what many of us feel today,” says Lynne.
Subsequent Painting For Palestine sessions included sound healing sessions, breathing techniques and trauma healing in an attempt to address the pain that many have been experiencing. Come to think of it, isn’t that the true purpose of art: healing? That’s something Lynne is determined to preserve in her own way. For example, she has been encouraging her students to replicate works by Palestinian artist and educator Heba Zaghout, who was killed during an airstrike in the early days of the war in Gaza. “Her house was bombed and all of her art disappeared along with her family. I encourage my students to focus on her work, giving them watercolors so they can create more copies of her work. This way, we will be able to remember her for the work she has done,” says Lynne. “We don’t want our identity to be erased.”
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