Layers of conflict
'City Limits’ by J. Kesin, is a series of cities in crisis, such as those affected by war, mistreatment of minorities, political and economic injustices, or negligence and their consequences. Each begins with research from photographs of fractured and fragmented places and becomes an embodiment of conflict and discord. Through the de-familiarization of the images on the canvas, and with the addition of further layers and varying degrees of transparency, the paintings become increasingly abstract, while still retaining figurative elements. Ultimately, the works strive to extend beyond the initial photographs, exploring contemporary questions and connections.
Conflict is a thread that runs continuously through human experience, yet art has a power that can express emotions and ideas words alone may struggle to convey. In the case of the now escalating conflict in Gaza, art can serve as a powerful medium to capture the multidimensionality of this intricate issue. One such painting goes beyond the humanitarian crisis; “Regression” delves into the complexities of supporting a population caught in the dual roles of oppressed and oppressor.
Although this series was completed in 2021, it serves as a reflection of the intricate layers of the conflict and the current conflagration. Based on photographs of Gaza taken at various different times, each layer represents a temporal moment in its history. Vivid splashes of color depict the vibrancy of the region, starkly contrasting with the dense areas of black which create a sense of confinement and suffocation. Somber undertones weigh heavily on the canvas, a duality which reflects the dichotomy of Gaza - a place of rich history and culture, marred by the strife that plagues it. It’s oppression by its more powerful neighbor is not in dispute, but what is often forgotten is the subjugation by Hamas of its own people. Minorities such as the LGBTQ community and women are persecuted and often killed, their basic human rights nonexistent in a state that has been hijacked by fundamentalism. With the heightened emotions of war, we often see in monochrome – oppressed/oppressor – losing sight of realities. At the heart of this conflict is a clash of radicals – Islamic and Zionist – which has created a maelstrom of hate into which ordinary people have been swept. We see rhetoric that we thought had died in the ashes of the fall of Nazism. Anger prevails on all sides, with humanity the loser.
The palette chosen mirrors the multifaceted nature of conflict. Pink and black dominate, the former overwhelmed by the latter. Here we see the plight of the oppressed within a subjugated community. Kesin is an artist whose work is composed of layers, and we fall into them, trying to separate one from another, each one representing rage, fear, and suffering, as well as the slow death of hope. Colors drip and run, alluding to the internal oppression that exists within Gaza; jagged, angular shapes and dark, heavy brushstrokes signify the weight of political turmoil and societal discord. These elements serve as a visual metaphor for the complexity and entanglement of the various forces at play.
One of the most profound aspects of this painting is its unflinching gaze at the complexities surrounding the Gaza conflict. While undoubtedly victims of a terrible oppression, it is essential to acknowledge that the inhabitants of Gaza also play a role in the oppression of minority groups within their territory. This work challenges the notion of a clear-cut victim and oppressor, presenting a stark juxtaposition of suffering and complicity. This duality reminds us that in situations of conflict, the lines between right and wrong are often blurred, and moral certainties always give way to myriad shades of gray.
“Regression” urges us to confront the uncomfortable truths that lie at the heart of Gaza. Supporting the Palestinians does not mean turning a blind eye to the often-troubling contradictions of their situation, but rather engaging with them in a way that seeks to address the root causes of their suffering. It also reminds us that in supporting them, we should also not resort to blind antisemitism. This current war, while always one simply waiting to happen, began with an attack on ordinary Israelis, on women and children, just as now it is women and children who are suffering from retaliatory strikes on Gaza. In all wars, it is the ordinary people who pay the highest price. Minority groups are victimized now as they will be victimized even after the hostilities end. Two wrongs will never make a right, and an eye for an eye, as Gandhi famously said, makes the whole world blind. In troubled times, we can turn to art to help us find balance, inclusive discussion, shared humanity and, ultimately, hope.
By Elizabeth Hefty Khoury
We are a European/Lebanese run art space in Valencia, Spain.
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