From Gaza to Italy: Palestinian artist breaks free of siege

Nidaa Badwan’s year-long self-imposed siege captured the world's attention and got her to San Marino

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It was a little over a year ago that Nidaa Badwan, a young female Gazan artist, chose to take refuge in her bedroom for 14 months, hoping to escape the daily hardships of life in a besieged conflict zone.

She had been living in Gaza since the age of 12. Nearly a decade later, she had already witnessed three devastating wars that turned the world around her into rubble.


After exhibiting her work in Jordan’s capital Amman in 2012, Nidaa returned to Gaza to work on an art project with other youth, before it was rejected by the Islamist Hamas government that runs the Gaza strip. The art galleries and cultural centers were all closed down too.


Desperate to leave, Nidaa made six attempts to obtain an Israeli permit to leave Gaza. She was denied each time.

At that point, she decided she would not leave her bedroom unless it was to leave Gaza entirely.

Her frustration translated into a series of strikingly vivid self-portraits that she took while she was in isolation. Her artwork made headlines when it was displayed in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus in January 2014.

Despite numerous efforts by the French Institute in Jerusalem, the financial backers of her exhibition, Nidaa was denied exit from Gaza once again and could not attend.


Today, 28-year-old Nidaa is in San Marino, Italy, showcasing her work internationally for the first time. She accepted a year-long offer as an art consultant at the University of the Republic of San Marino.

“I stand in front of my photographs, in front of my memories, and deep down I feel like I’m still stuck inside my pictures. I’m still shocked,” she said.

Using all the props she could experiment with – from wooden ladders to gas canisters – and the hues of sunrise and sunset that shone through her window, Nidaa created intricate images that are undoubtedly radiant.

Her set of 14 acrylic on dibond printed photographs, all which depict Nidaa in an array of playful personas pertaining to women, are now on display in three locations in Italy: Monte Grimano, Montecatini Terme, and San Marino, on the eastern side of central Italy.

Sponsored by San Marino’s Ministry of Education and Culture, her exhibition was launched on Nov. 23 and extends till Jan. 6.

“We are convinced that Nidaa’s photographs will become an icon for the message of freedom throughout the world. Her story tells us how to fight hate through love, lack of education by means of rationale, war through peace, and mediocrity through art,” the Minister of Education and Culture, Giuseppe Maria Morganti, told Al Arabiya News.

“The clever and non-violent way she chose to protest and express her dissent represents the more powerful weapon available in overcoming intolerance and extremism,” he added.

Approximately 70 of her photographs have now been sold.

Nidaa says she will be holding other exhibitions in Milan, Rome and in France.

Leaving Gaza

Having lived in a besieged enclave for 14 years, Nidaa’s ultimatum to leave Gaza or to remain in her bedroom seemed ambitious.

After graduating from the Fine Arts School of Gaza’s al-Aqsa University, Nidaa worked as an arts coach at the Tamer Institute for Community Education.

Her first solo exhibition took place at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s theater which was bombed and torched during Israel’s 2008 bombardment.

Photo courtesy: Nidaa Badwan
Photo courtesy: Nidaa Badwan

It seemed that all her efforts to express creativity would eventually also be shot down, like the threatre. “There were lots of pressures from society, the blockade generated many problems. I was attacked because I was trying to break free from their way of life,” said Nidaa.

Although it seemed impossible to leave Gaza, her family was committed to supporting her decision to stay in solitude.
“It was difficult for the family at first,” said Nidaa’s younger sister, Isra Badwan.

“But my dad was the kind of person who would go down to our neighbor at 5 AM in the morning and wait for him to come home from morning prayers to say: ‘I want to borrow your rooster for Nidaa’s photography.’ I would be visiting my parents’ house and randomly find a rooster making noises at 6 am in the morning,

“We are so proud of her, even more than if she was a doctor or a space scientist,” said Isra.

Having taken interest in her potential, Bethlehem’s Father Ibrahim Faltas of the John Paul Foundation II decided to take her under his wing and work on a permit to get her out. The permit was issued within 10 days, and Nidaa was on her way to Italy.

Next Steps

Upon arriving to her room in Italy, Nidaa put down her bag and began drawing. Inspired by younger autistic brother’s drawing skills, she produced 11 sketches that are set to be displayed on April 2, 2016 – World Autism Awareness Day.

“Those who are autistic cannot come into our world, we have to find a way into theirs,” said Nidaa.

She is currently working on two other photography projects.

This is only the beginning of Nidaa’s journey. She has obtained residency in San Marino and is yet to explore offers from New York and France. The only uncertainty is when she will be seeing her family again.

“We may be able to see her soon but not in Gaza. It would be very difficult for the person who has inhaled the breath of freedom to go back between four walls,” said Isra.

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