Saturday, November 04, 2006

Madonna and Child

Khalil Raad was an avid Palestinian Protestant photographer from the late 1800s into the 1st half of the 20th century. He has some wonderful photographs and his collection serves as an invaluable historical archive of Palestinian life before the Israeli ethnic cleansing of 1948 (while he wasn't out to do so, his photographs basically debunk all the erroneous Zionist myths about Palestine being uninhabited, desert wasteland, etc.).

I was recently really struck by this one picture which I thought looked like a quintessential Palestinian version of a Mary and baby Jesus portrait. After all, as Palestinians of all faiths will tell you, and as Palestinian Christians are especially proud, Jesus was Palestinian! The shot was taken somewhere between 1918-1935. If I knew anything about the local embroidery patterns anymore I'd probably be able to make a reasonable guess about which region of Palestine this young mother was from (and whether she was Christian or Muslim, I'm guessing Christian based on the photographs proximity to other shots from the Bethlehem/Beit Sahour area and the fact that Raad was Protestant and probably did many of the personal portraits from among those in his own social circles as well as the upper class and tourists more generally), but it's been too many years now for me to recall. It is an eery feeling to look back at many of these pictures though. A happy young mother with a newborn child. Did they survive 1948? Were they ethnically cleansed or did they manage to cling on to their homes? Is she or is the baby now an old cripple in a refugee camp somewhere, being told by Israelis and Americans that they are an "obstacle to peace" when all they want is to go home and have a few minutes of peace and serenity in the place they were born? Or have happier times prevailed, do they still have a warm home and warm memories in the place they were born and their descendants likewise? Or perhaps pieces of all of the above.

Anyhow, click on the image to have a closer look at this wonderful photo, I'm going to have to find some ways to take some artistic inspiration from it in the future.


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