Artists come together in solidarity with Palestine

Held at the KLCAG, the ‘Voices of Resistance 2024’ art exhibition is a manifestation of hope, unity, strength and resilience


THERE is a voice that does not use words. Listen.” — Jalaluddin Al-Rumi. Amid debates, conferences, uproars and protests against the massacre of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers in Gaza, a group of Turkish artists used their arts to amplify their solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Held at the KL City Art Gallery (KLCAG) from Feb 5 to 11, the “Voices of Resistance 2024” art exhibition was a collaborative endeavour led by the Birlikte Sanat Society (Together for Art Platform) with the Turkish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the Yunus Emre Institute (YEE).

It was inaugurated by the Turkish ambassador to Malaysia Emir Salim Yuksel, symbolising the strong ties between Turkiye and Malaysia.

The Birlikte Sanat Society described the exhibition as more than just a display of art — it was a manifestation of hope, unity, strength and resilience.

Maizon says the paintings reflect the artists’ thinking on Gaza and their interpretation of the complex and multifaceted war there (Pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL/ TMR)

KLCAG owner Maizon Omar said the paintings reflected the artists’ thinking on Gaza and their interpretation of the complex and multifaceted war there.

“Their art was their critique and a protest adding their voice to peace and end of cruelty,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

On Feb 8, there was a forum titled “Voices of Resistances — Palestine”, which focused on the plight of the Palestinians and their suffering as victims of the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

Global Women Coalition for Al Quds and Palestine relations coordinator Dr Badria Salim’s presentation focused on the war victims, especially the suffering of children and women at the hands of Israel’s relentless and indiscriminate bombing. She spoke on how the cruelty of the Israeli soldiers are depriving Palestinians of every basic necessity to sustain life.

Forum participants also discussed their personal initiatives to raise awareness of the issue, including social media campaigns and donations to victims through reputable organisations and agencies.

The exhibition was also participated by artists from around the world including Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh, who wished to use the platform to express their abhorrence of the Israeli cruelty towards civilians in Gaza.

“Art is a universal language; it is effective in fostering cultural understanding between nations,” Maizon said.

She pointed out several artworks that resonated the most with the audience, such as “Immigration” and immigration photo series by Aysegul Odabasi; “Colours of Hope” by Tuba Ahsan; and “Longing for Far” and “Conversation” by Mediha Atalay.

From Malaysia, the artworks included “Breadth of Life” by Khairul Arsha; an untitled sculpture of animal suffering by Jamil Zakaria; “Grey Zone” by Yan Abdul Rahim; as well as “Lima Kunci Kembali ke Baqarah” and “Awan Hitam di Bumi Palestine” by Rim Shahrin.

Maizon told TMR that collaborations such as this offered artists from various countries the opportunity to exchange and appreciate each other’s culture as well as ideas.

“They had dialogues and storytelling on their perception of the Gaza conflict, on human suffering which also led to discussions of cultural values and histories,” she said.

She noted that artistic creations could be used to initiate discussions on cultural differences, similarities and shared experiences, leading to a greater understanding of differing perspectives and eventually, to mutual respect.

“Their arts started and would lead to continuous dialogues and future collaborations,” she added.

The Power of Art Therapy

Apart from the Israel-Palestine crisis, Voices of Resistance 2024 also served as a platform to highlight various other social and humanity issues, as well as to extend assistance to those in need.

On Feb 7 and 8, the Birlikte Sanat Society, along with YEE and Geutanyoe Malaysia, organised an art therapy programme aimed at nurturing the talents of children in refugee schools and learning centres in Malaysia.

Some of the artists involved in the exhibition, who wish to use the platform to express their abhorrence of the Israeli cruelty towards civilians in Gaza

The refugee schools and learning centres that they went to on the first day were the Al-Ansaar Education Centre and Rabbaniyah Educare, while on the second day, they went to Refugee Academy in Meru, Klang, Selangor, and Marifah International School in Seri Kembangan, Selangor.

Turkish artist and the Birlikte Sanat Society representative Ahsan said the event went well, with the children showing great expressiveness.

“We also observed more smiles on their faces,” she told TMR.

This initiative sought to empower orphaned and refugee children from various conflict-ridden regions, including Palestine, Yemen, Myanmar, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Sri Lanka, through the therapeutic power of art therapy.

Ahsan said the participants believe in art’s healing power and hoped that through the programme, they could offer a secure space for children to express themselves and uncover their potential. “As a team of artists, we have been conducting art therapy in Turkiye and various countries for many years, creating beautiful memories. Our visit to Malaysia was particularly meaningful,” she said.

Ahsan also pointed out the potential for future collaborations between KLCAG, Birlikte Sanat Society and other partners to further promote solidarity, resilience and the transformative power of art.

“It has been a chain of valuable projects with beneficial returns for all of us. We are currently in communication about potential projects that could be undertaken,” she added.

Rising From the Ashes

Before initiating this exhibition chain for Palestine, Ahsan said Birlikte Sanat Society and partners have conducted a series titled “Rising From the Ashes” for the earthquake victims in Turkiye.

An untitled sculpture of animal suffering by Malaysian artist Jamil Zakaria

They held exhibitions in New York, Qatar, Kuwait, Milan and Bangladesh. With the proceeds from all exhibitions, they built 18 wooden houses for the victims.

Additionally, they made substantial donations to charitable organisations. This demonstrated that by gathering donations through art, they not only contributed financially but also raised awareness about pressing issues.

Ahsan also shared that preparing for the exhibition took months, and managing the work remotely was truly challenging.

“Moreover, promoting the exhibition and reaching out to collectors in various countries was genuinely difficult,” she shared.

In this regard, the Turkish Embassy, YEE and the Kakiseni team, whom she contacted online, were very supportive.

The Voices of Resistance 2024 exhibition also had a session on how art can support and help to heal trauma victims and how art is used to understand and express compassion, even by children.

“Making art can be a catharsis to release painful and disturbing emotions. It is also a self-reflecting activity,” Maizon highlighted.

Catharsis refers to the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from strong or repressed emotions.

Maizon (second from left), Ahsan (centre) and Yuksel (second from right) during the inauguration of the exhibition

In psychology and literature, catharsis often involves experiencing or witnessing intense emotions, such as fear, pity or sadness, in a controlled environment which can lead to a sense of emotional purification or renewal.

Hence, Maizon said, art speaks where words fail.

“Even children can use art to express how they feel about the issues.

“Our Turkey collaborators, especially Tuba Ahsan, had been organising art exhibitions to help war victims and also those who suffered from the impact of natural disasters such as the Feb 6, 2023, earthquake.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake in southern Turkey, near the northern border of Syria, was the most devastating to hit earthquake-prone Turkey in more than 20 years.

What was worse, Maizon said, the earthquake occurred near Gaziantep in south-central Turkiye, home to thousands of Syrian refugees.

There was a constant stream of visitors throughout the exhibition despite the CNY holiday season

Warm Response

Maizon said the overall response and feedback received from visitors during the Voices of Resistance 2024 exhibition was splendid.

“Several ambassadors, expatriates, and Malaysians attended on the opening day, in support of the cause of the exhibition. Guests were also treated with high tea sponsored by the Turkish Embassy,” she said.

In the duration of this exhibition, she was delighted that there was a constant stream of visitors despite the Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday season.

Maizon acknowledged art galleries, such as KLCAG, for providing platforms for local and overseas artists to express the unique characteristics and aspects of their culture, traditions and perspectives.

Ahsan with her paintings. She points out the potential for future collaborations to further promote the transformative power of art

She emphasised that art effectively challenges stereotypes by presenting alternative narratives, questioning preconceived notions and cultivating a more nuanced and accurate understanding of diverse cultures.

“KLCAG has been active in seeking collaboration, across cultures and disciplines. For example, we organised the inaugural ‘KL Art and Culture Festival’ last year which presented cross-disciplinary activities,” she said.

KLCAG had, during the Covid-19 crisis pandemic, organised several international art exhibitions virtually.

Going forward, Maizon said KLCAG has plans to continue to give opportunities to artists to add their voices to current global issues and universal themes with international collaboration.

The Unsung Heroes

The Birlikte Sanat Society was founded in response to the sense of responsibility felt by artists following the devastating earthquake in Turkiye on Feb 6, 2023.

Operating under the initiative Rising From the Ashes, the society orchestrated a series of exhibitions and auctions across various countries, including Turkiye, Qatar, the US, Kuwait, Italy and Bangladesh.

Through these events, funds were raised to construct wooden housing units for the victims of the earthquake.

Children at Rabbaniyah Educare showing great expressiveness through art during the art therapy programme

Composed entirely of volunteers, the society’s team continually welcomes new artist friends from both local and international backgrounds, thereby diversifying their efforts.

In addition to their past endeavours, they are currently preparing to host exhibitions in Dubai, Malaysia and Brunei for the benefit of Palestine.

The society stands committed to supporting their Palestinian brothers and sisters until the end of the genocide.

The art therapy programme aims at nurturing the talents of children in refugee schools and learning centres in Malaysia

Birlikte Sanat Society co-founder Cemal Toy emphasised the profound healing power of art. He asserted that even amid the most challenging crises and moments of need, art plays a vital role in individual and societal healing.

Toy underscored that art provides individuals with a medium to understand and express their emotional experiences and cognitive aspects, serving as a potent means of communication.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition