Stuck in the rubble: Gaza artist deploys frozen human figures

In October, human figurines stood among the destroyed houses of the Shejaiya district, the area believed to have witnessed the height of the war

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A fragile ceasefire looms over the Gaza Strip as those affected by the seven-week conflict in July and August scramble to piece back their lives, including one artist who tried to restore one of the many elements lost with the war.

In October, human figurines stood among the destroyed houses of the Shejaiya district, the area believed to have witnessed the height of the war.

Palestinian sculptor Iyad Sabbah erected the statues, made out of fiber-glass and covered with clay, as an expression of his vision of the war.

“I wanted to portray what was missing,” he said, noting not only those who lost their lives, but also who fled their homes.

“We lived through war, we lived the events we saw in the media, all of this pushes us into thinking about expressing the scenery we’ve seen,” he told Al Arabiya News.

He described the destroyed buildings as piles he wanted to turn into a piece of art.

“I tried to add to them what was lost after the war, the people,” he said.

“I tried to build the people, but through my own vision, I tried to divert the subject to human consciousness because at the end of the day, human beings paid the price of the war,” he said.

As to those who were still alive, “they carried the scars of the war, and the destruction, the psychological toll of the conflict,” Sabah explained.

The statues depicted men and women holding and sometimes walking alongside their children.

Sabbah said working with both fiber class and home-made clay posed the greatest challenge while working, in addition to the “crisis” Gazan artists faced due to shortage of material to work with.

“Generally, an artist turns anything he gets his hands on into art, into a piece with value, but we do have a serious crisis with our supplies, especially when it comes to sculpting.”

Another challenge was where to display his rendition of the residents of the enclave.

The statues first appeared in Shejaiya, where Sabbah could not leave the art for too long as the area remained private property.

“We couldn’t keep them there for too long because the plots on which it was displayed was private property” albeit destroyed, “these places belonged to people.”

While his work received positive criticism, Sabbah said some residents were not comfortable with the installations for religious reasons.

“Some believed that the statues were haram.”

Born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian parents, Sabbah returned to Gaza in 1982 where he remained there to witness the first Intifada.

“My work is my personal expression of what happened in Gaza,” he said, explaining that what brought him positive reactions was the “human element that touched people in Gaza and outside Gaza, and the same time, this was honest and direct.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree in Libya, before his masters in Cairo’s Helwan University.

“I’ve taken a tour around the Arab world,” he jokingly said as he added that he is currently pursuing his PhD through a university in Tunisia.

“What is said on the news will not come through to a lot of people, but art gets to anyone, regardless of nationality or race.”

The most recent conflict in Gaza claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians and killed more than 70 Israelis, mostly soldiers.