ARTIST: Khaled Jarrar and his State of Palestine stamp 17Jul11 July 17, 2011

This week in Palestine   -   artist of the month -   Issue 159, July 2011
Khaled Jarrar has been swiftly catapulted into the public eye for his audacious State of Palestine stamp, an aesthetically pleasing design of the Palestinian Sunbird that is now gracing the passports of numerous supporters.

While the strength of reaction has surprised the artist, Jarrar was amazed to discover that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now using his stamp in its campaign literature to attack the foreseen declaration of statehood at the UN General Assembly this September.

“I’m not thinking about them,” he told us, denying that the project is overtly political. “This is about refusing to deny ourselves. We are human and need to express ourselves.”

Jarrar was also thinking about his Western friends, who fret over their visas at the mercy of Israeli border officials. To date, 28 internationals have taken him up on his offer, bearing his Palestinian stamp when they pass through Ben Gurion Airport.

The reactions have varied. “My South African friend showed the stamp to security and they said ‘I didn’t know this existed,’ and let him pass. When he got to Cape Town they said it was beautiful,” Jarrar recalls.

Others haven’t been so lucky. A Danish man was subjected to hours of interrogation by various officials, while an American was banned from Israel when he displayed the stamp at the Allenby Bridge.

“I felt guilty and was thinking to stop,” says Jarrar. The strength of international goodwill stopped him. He has received over 1,500 messages of support from around the world and enjoyed favourable media coverage from Sweden to China.

Now, rather than end the project, he has extended it to include an “ambassador programme,” with willing participants abroad promoting solidarity in their home nations. He will also make a presentation next year at Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous border between West and East Berlin, for the Biennale Festival.

Public participation has always been key to Jarrar’s work. “I want my projects to interact with people,” he says. “Art in galleries is more for elite people. I want everyone to be involved; each person (involved in the stamp project) is an artist.”

This philosophy has informed his past works, notably At the Checkpoint, a 2007 photography exhibition staged on the walls around Qalandia. The display, using the art form he began with, also garnered international attention and led to a series of successful exhibitions abroad.

Jarrar believes in using material rooted in reality. “Fantasy is for individuals,” he says. “If you believe in yourself, you must be useful for humanity and the people around you. If you have talent you should use it to affect reality. Fantasy cannot have this impact. We live on earth.” With his Sunbird, Jarrar is reaching further than he could have dared to believe.

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