Palestinian artist and poet Malak Mattar came to Drew University on the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 28 to give a presentation entitled “Art As Sanctuary,” as part of a tour around the United States. She arrived for the tour on Jan. 20 and said she is enjoying her second visit to the country. She was here last yea, for a tour of her art which included an exhibit at the Palestinian Museum in Woodbridge, Connecticut.
“The U.S. is my favorite place,” Mattar said. “I just love the atmosphere, I love how friendly people are.”
Growing up in the Gaza Strip, Mattar was exposed to war starting in 2008, with war breaking out again in 2012 and 2014. By the end of the last war, the number of people who were killed rose to 2,310. Mattar starting painting since the age of 13 as a way to turn her focus to something other than the ongoing war. She held her first exhibit in 2014 at only 14 years old in the Gaza Strip. She is now 20 and continues to exhibit her art and speak about the courage she has gained through this art.
“It makes you feel strength despite everything. You still wake up, you create something, you build something out of nothing just to feel alive, and to feel like no, there is hope and there is actually a life that is there to be lived,” Mattar explained.
She currently lives in Turkey and attends the University of Istanbul where she is majoring in political science. She spoke about the juxtaposition of art and politics, stating, “It feels like I’m trying to find a way that I can connect both of them. Like being born and raised in a very political place has made me realize that I really need to learn politics, and I really need to be aware of what’s going on, so I’ll say my paintings are political in a way even if they’re not meant to [be] so.”
Mattar also expressed her passion about gender equality, a sentiment strongly reflected in her paintings. She is supportive of feminism and has been questioning issues pertaining to women’s rights since childhood.
PICTURE COURTESY OF MONDOWEISS
“It’s been really difficult because in many countries, not only in the Middle East, there’s inequality in the art world between women and men,” Mattar said. “I’ve been reading statistics about women and men and how many people buy from men not women, and it’s been really noticeable. And that’s why I paint women. It comes naturally.” She is inspired by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Sliman Mansour, a Palestinian painter.
Mattar also writes poetry for the nonprofit foundation We Are Not Numbers, which gives Palestinians a chance to publish their personal stories and have their voices heard. She read aloud one of her poems, “Nightmare.” In it, Mattar speaks of peace as a means of rebirth, “When peace dies, embrace it; it will live again.”
After her talk, Mattar accepted questions from the audience. “I think her artwork’s really beautiful and, well I grew up in Turkey so I’ve been informed on Israel,” said Beyza Yilmaz (’22), a Biochemistry student. “She did a really good job in expressing her activism; she let everyone in the room know that she is standing up for the Palestinian people no matter what.”
Another student who is a double Art and Art History major, Maria Navas (’20), also enjoyed the talk.“I kind of empathize a lot with her feelings. My own artwork is also about feminism and women so it was just wonderful.” Navas is an international student from Colombia.
The presentation ended with students and professors talking and smiling, coming together and asking further questions. Food and drinks were provided, and prints of Mattar’s artwork were available for sale.