News from nowhere

The Syrian artist Randa Mdah expresses the suffering of a people.

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Never before in my life have I seen drawings like the ones I’m looking at, and what makes them unprecedented – in any case for me – is the life experience with which they are impregnated.

They don’t describe or illustrate this experience; they are simply filled with it.

This experience may well be, historically speaking, unprecedented, too. History, despite what the editorialists say, does give rise to new forms of suffering.

What is this experience with which these drawings are filled? It is a form of endurance, an endurance which is habitual, common and endless. A harsh endurance. An endurance in each body circulating like the body’s bloodstream.

The hands and figures of the bodies are taking the pulse of the soul’s endurance. The faces of the bodies do not exchange glances because with their eyes shut or unseeing they all face the same wall. The faces’ mouths are simply open because there are no more words to be pronounced.

Their silence makes me think of the motionless mouths of statues. But the figures are not statues; they are awaiting life and they have become old. Juvenile and senile.

Where are they? On the floor of a waiting room in a law-courts office of a judge who has disappeared? Or are they nowhere?

Their clothes are winding sheets; their lips are as warm as ours. They are nowhere.

The series to which these drawings belong is entitled Lead on paper. Lead like the lead of a pencil. And lead as the name of one of the heaviest metals.

The drawings were made recently by the Syrian artist Randa Mdah, who was born in 1983 in Majdal Shams, just on the ceasefire line running along the Golan Heights, once part of Syria and illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. The Israeli forces still control that area today. Despite this, Randa Mdah lives and works there.

The methodical, unrelenting filching of the Palestinian people’s homeland from ­under their feet has been going on for eighty years, and today the redress of this criminal injustice is more remote than it has ever been. The Palestinian homeland
is Nowhere. These drawings are a chart of that Nowhere.

“Portraits: John Berger on Artists” is published by Verso

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This article appears in the 17 March 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Spring double issue

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