Palestinian Architect And Artist Dima Srouji On Bethlehem's Blossoming Art Scene

BY Dima Srouji / Jul 22 2019 / 15:20 PM

Despite a foggy socio-political backdrop, the art scene in Bethlehem, Palestine, thrives

Palestinian Architect And Artist Dima Srouji On Bethlehem's Blossoming Art Scene
Photograhy by Mikaela Burstow
Views of The Wonder Cabinet in Bethlehem

Behind the apartheid wall of the city of Bethlehem, several vibrant creative spaces have been vigorously reactivating its spirit. With the everlasting struggle of the occupation, there seems to be little hope in moving beyond the issues of everyday life. In spite of this, the art community is thriving with a passion driven by an underlying love for their homeland and an attitude focused on generosity.

These spaces have set the stage for a future generation that may not have the privilege to move as freely as others by providing facilities, educational workshops and an attitude of inclusion focusing on improving the social and cultural life of the city.

The first was devised by Elias and Yousef Anastas of AAU Anastas Architects, who founded Local Industries in 2011. Local Industries aims to reassert the value of Palestinian labour and highlight the history of the local know-how without freezing it in a traditional role. In collaboration with the artisans, the duo began using the The Bandak Factory space,  now home to their new project, The Wonder Cabinet.

Views of The Wonder Cabinet in Bethlehem. Photograhy by Mikaela Burstow

The Bandak Factory sits comfortably with spatial ease. The front entrance is a double height modernist stone threshold connecting it to the owner’s residence. Although an industrial space in its scale and programme, it sits within a rich landscape planted by the owner, Munzer Bandak, with local organic vegetables and fruits creating a familiar space despite its shift in scale.

The industrial rooms illuminate each day with morning and evening light as the sun filters through large 1950s pivot glass panels. Peppered with treasured archival photographs, chairs and beds, the factory serves as an informal museum, showcasing objects from its long history of producing beds for the Jordanian army in its original location on the infamous Star Street.

The photographs and objects displayed not only celebrate the history of the place, but they also celebrate what has been maintained today: the local artisanal know-how.

The factory now continues its history of production, although on a much smaller scale, and has grown, under the name of The Wonder Cabinet, as a hybrid combining industrial production with a flexible cultural and social platform. According to Elias, “the factory is an inclusive and progressive platform whose goal is to give birth to unforeseen knowledge.

Views of The Wonder Cabinet in Bethlehem. Photograhy by Mikaela Burstow

The hub gathers an ensemble composed of people and initiatives—all living in one place—and finds ways of sharing and engaging with each other over time.”

The space has already been activated through multiple events, a musical event on Easter Saturday featuring a youth choir for the UNESCO International Jazz Day, as well as one of Recordat’s recording sessions featuring Atlas, Julmud, Makimakkuk, Muqata’a, O-wais and Radio Nard. The outstanding list of regional musicians and artists that attended the event is a sign of an energised generation that has catalysed a cultural renaissance.

Further down the meandering streets is a music venue designed and founded by couple Mai Mourad and Issa Sacaan. Called L’Drum Room, it has featured a range of artists, including Faraj Suleiman, Rasha Nahas, Zaid Hilal and Yousef Anastas of Local Industries. This collaborative environment presents a supportive community with the same values, interests and approach to culture. It is clear that what connects everyone here is an unspoken attitude towards reconstructing a continuously targeted and stereotyped culture.

To read the full article, pick up the Summer 2019 issue of Harper's Bazaar Art

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