Tree For Life brings message of hope and peace in a dark world.
In the darkest of times, the human spirit alone is the light that shines. Hopelessness and despair may prowl around like hungry lions but we still find a way to survive.
Something within us becomes that beacon of hope. All we have to remember is to turn on the light.
No one on this planet identifies with this more than those who are the victims of war and disasters. To have your very homes and lives plucked mercilessly from you ... death seems like a welcoming friend.
But life must go on. There are mouths to feed and young ones to tend.
What’s funny and ironic is that we, the unaffected ones, are those who readily look at such travesties through the lens of despondency and fail to see them sanguinely.
All we have to do is consider the folks who carry on with their lives in spite of their dire circumstances and hope will be ignited once more.
Raed Bawayah is one such person. The Palestinian photographer knows well about the hardships under Israeli occupation. His works, however, are a breath of fresh air for instead of highlighting the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, Raed chose instead to capture the human aspect of Palestinian daily life.
His first Malaysian solo exhibition, Tree For Life, currently on at Vallette Gallery (formerly called Fine Art 69 Gallery) looks at the Palestinians through their inextricable connection with olive trees, synonymous with Middle Eastern culture and history and a symbol of peace.
“I focus in social photography. I consider myself an ambassador of humanity. As such, I’m trying to bring another image of Palestine, about the daily lives of Palestinians ... that they do have daily lives behind the conflicts,” said the 43-year-old in a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.
Currently based in Paris, the Musrara school of photography (in Jerusalem) graduate shared that he endeavoured to bring another image of Palestinians “because we are so used to seeing the same things over and over for the last 60 years whenever we watch the news.”
Raed moved to Paris eight years ago when he was offered an artist’s residency for six months. He has stayed there ever since and visits his family in Palestine several times a year.
“The olive tree is one of our national symbols. It is related to the people. When you grow up with trees in your garden, any tree, it becomes part of you and part of your family.
“But because of the conflict between the settlers and the Palestinian farmers, hundreds of olive trees are cut down every year by the Israelis. People are losing their source of income.
“As it is, there is a high percentage of umemployment since the walls were built. Imagine taking their last source of food and income from them. I wanted to talk about them through this window,” the Qatanna-born photographer added.
There are 32 stunning black and white photographs (taken from 2011-2013) on display at the exhibition and one of them shows a Palestinian man using a ladder to climb set over a wall. It is a simple picture packed with nuances.
Entitled Portrait 9, the monochromatic photo shows the desperate and hopeful attempt of the man to do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means going to the other side.
The photographer’s previous exhibitions also have a similar edge. Raed’s solo exhibition entitled Living In Palestine, presented at the prestigious 2007 Visa pour l’image photojournalism festival in Perpignan, France, looked at the living conditions of hospitals and refugee centres and camps in Palestine.
One of the striking photographs (Portrait 3) of Tree For Life depicts an elderly woman in her traditional Palestinian robe, sitting atop a gunny sack before an olive tree. The dry and rocky terrain serves as a contrast to the small smile carved on her wrinkled face. Her gaze has a kind of potent aura, drawing your eyes to her.
“Normally, her children will be doing the work but because they have been imprisoned by Israel, she helps the neighbours to pick the olives. She has a very hard life,” explained Raed.
But how does one capture such stunning photographs of people living in such a state and yet present it without any clouds of gloom?
Raed’s solution to that is to spend time with his subjects and try to understand them as much as he can.
“I try to to discover their work before I take out my camera and start taking photos.
“I think it’s important to build this confidante relationship between the people and the photographer because once you have that, they will open their doors to you,” he opined, likening his approach to reading a book.
Tree For Life is on at Vallette Gallery, Jalan Bruas, Damansara Heights in Kuala Lumpur till Nov 2. Open Monday to Saturday. 10am-12pm and 2pm-6pm. Visits are by appointment only. Contact Patrice Vallete (019 3012 569) or visit www.vallettegallery.com.