Depicting peace and hope during times of tragedy
Laila Ajjawi is a Palestinian graffiti artist who was born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp outside of Irbid, Jordan. While volunteering for humanitarian aid organisations she was commissioned to create a mural in a kindergarten, which first introduced her to street art. Her first personal piece of street art was displayed in the Irbid refugee camp she grew up in and is dedicated to her home country of Palestine. The Irbid camp is home to around 45,000 refugees.
It is a place where generations of Palestinians have lived since 1948. Between 1947 and 1949, 750,000 Palestinians were made refugees (approximately half the Palestinian population at the time), 530 villages and cities were ethnically cleansed and destroyed, and more than 78 per cent of Palestinian land was taken by Zionist forces.
In conversation with GQ Middle East, Ajjawi talks about her feelings on responsibility as an artist, sustaining a connection with the past and present, and her desire to protect her Palestinian identity. Images of Palestinian and Jordanian flags are prevalent in her work, often accompanied by figures of each respective nation’s residents. Ajjawi has spoken about her reluctance to use red in her work which can invoke negative emotions relating to death, war and violence. Instead, Ajjawi’s work contains lots of green, blue, turquoise, violet and ochre, utilising cooler tones and ‘friendly’ colours to promote feelings of calm and peace. The colour in her work has a vivid brightness, as a counter to the arid backdrop of her home. Her earlier work can be distinguished by its animated, bright murals, taking inspiration from manga she grew up reading.
Ajjawi’s work also has an acute focus on women. She has worked with ‘Women on Walls,’ a public art project in Egypt which empowers women through street art. Her mural of Rouzan Ashraf Abdul Qadir al-Najjar can be found on the Irbid camp site. Al-Najjar was a Palestinian nurse and paramedic who was killed by the Israeli Army, whilst volunteering on the Gaza border in 2018. The mural is dedicated to her, showing her dressed in a white thobe, holding the Palestinian flag, in front of an aqua background. Themes of peace and hope are present, as doves and olive branches adorn the surroundings, as well as The Dome of Rock, located at the centre of al-Aqsa Mosque pictured in the background. The mural highlights that the IDF have specifically targeted medical staff, defying international law set by the Geneva Conventions.
Ajjawi is an exemplar of modern political graffiti art. Her work evokes the need to protect Palestinian history, and the continuous attempts by Zionist forces to ethnically cleanse and erase the Palestinian people. Centralising themes of hope and peace alongside the ever-present resistance to occupation, Ajjawi has added colour, life and memory to the refugee camp she was brought up in. Her work is pivotal in understanding the refugee perspective, and the reality of thousands of Palestinians who are currently facing the brutalities of genocide.
Ajjawi’s work is available to view on her Instagram page @laila.ajjawi
Image and permission given from Laila Ajjawi via her instagram