Freedom of Expression, an exhibition presented by The Freedom Theatre, is the outcome of a workshop with artist Mohammad Saba’aneh who has worked with The Freedom Theatre’s multimedia team to open the world of cartoon and caricature painting to young people in Jenin.
Freedom of expression is a crucial topic as censorship and attacks on journalists, activists and artists are growing in Palestine. While poet Dareen Tatour remains in house arrest by Israeli authorities since 2016, after having spent three months in prison over a poem she published on social media, human rights defender Issa Amro was arrested early September by the Palestinian Authority for making posts on Facebook criticising the detention of a local journalist. He has previously been arrested numerous times by the Israeli occupation (20 times in 2012 alone) and currently faces an Israeli military court trial, set to resume in October. Human rights group fear that the Palestinian Authority’s recently-issued ‘electronic crimes’ law will limit freedom of expression online and will be used to censor social media posts critical of PA policy.
Mohammad Saba’aneh initiated this workshop and exhibition together with Mohammed Moawia, multimedia coordinator at The Freedom Theatre. Saba’aneh is a long-time friend of the theatre and former board member. He spent five months in Israeli prison in 2013, accused of publishing drawings in a book associated with Hamas. He has since made numerous cartoons on the plight of Palestinian political prisoners and also criticising Palestinian leaders. His work is featured in newspapers across the Arab world and he has also published a book, White and Black, as well as exhibitions in Palestine and internationally.
Few art forms are more effective than cartoons and caricatures to comment on human rights abuses and political oppression. For Saba’aneh, the workshop and exhibition on freedom of expression is part of the cultural resistance that The Freedom Theatre is engaged in. “This workshop is only the beginning”, he says, “aimed at opening the eyes of young people to the art form, increase their awareness and give them tools to continue to learn. We will continue, together, and hopefully publish a book as the outcome of this initiative.”
14 young women and men have participated in the workshop. The caricatures displayed in the exhibition talk about freedom of expression in its many forms; writing, speaking, art and music. Many of them comment on the often violent repression of freedom of expression by the Israeli occupation and the increasing censorship by the Palestinian Authority. Others focus on the self-censorship exercised among Palestinians. The caricatures are radical, brave and the message is loud and clear: freedom of expression is a human right and it needs to be protected and defended.
The exhibition is presented in cooperation with the International Cartoon Rights Network (CRNI) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The Freedom Theatre hopes to expand this project in the future, with a long-term training program involving Palestinian and international artists, producing a series of comics that will be published in a book.