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Gaza artist turns waste into art

Palestinian artist Shareef Sarhan collects discarded items and transforms them into art to help reduce pollution in the Gaza Strip.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Several days a week, Palestinian artist Shareef Sarhan visits Gaza City’s factories and workshops to gather steel, aluminum, wood and other discarded materials. Most of these are found carelessly lying around, often threatening the environment.

Back in his small art workshop in Gaza City, with its table crowded with sets of colorful paints, the artist uses an aluminum hand drill to turn aluminum objects into brightly-painted Arabic letters that can be hung on the wall. The prices of artworks in his recent exhibition, “Letters and the City,” which was held in Ramallah last year, ranged between $1,500 and $5,000.

Sarhan, 40, is known as one of the most innovative artists in the Gaza Strip, where artists struggle to find drawing and painting materials. The father of four has been painting, sculpting, designing and taking photographs since 1998, and has freelanced as a photographer, mostly for international organizations.

Sarhan is a member of the Palestinian Artists Association and a founding member of the Shababek group, known abroad as the "Windows from Gaza for Contemporary Art." He has participated in several technical training courses in and outside Palestine and exhibited his works in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Amman, Britain, the United States, Spain, Sweden, Sharjah and Cairo.

One of his best known works is “Lighthouse of Gaza,” where several artists and designers built a lighthouse from waste and metal objects. Over the last few years, he has focused on creating art from recycled items.

Sarhan defines recycling as restoring the original form of an object and then reusing it. He recognizes that discarded items can be used for his art pieces, either as metal Arabic letters without diacritics or as canvases.

“I use aluminum, steel, wood and old clothes — all the things that are of no use to the Palestinians. There are very few recycling plants in Gaza. Therefore, I take waste materials and turn them into attractive designs,” Sarhan told Al-Monitor.

He said, “I draw on damaged canvas illustrations that reflect the Palestinian cause. I use Arabic letters and characters, which are an essential part of our culture. I believe an artist is an integral part of his homeland.”

Tamer al-Naffar, 12, from Gaza City, told Al-Monitor, “Recycled art, which turns the waste in the streets into art objects is important to us Palestinians. This could reduce environmental pollution produced by metal waste and remnants.”

He added, “Sarhan’s drawings and artworks are wonderful as they reflect the Palestinian reality we live in.”

Khaled Nassar, a specialist in fine and plastic arts, who supervises workshops in recycled art in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that art created from recycled materials allows artists to incorporate unused materials, turning them into valuable objets d’art, which also helps preserve the environment.

“There are many reasons for artists to resort to using recycled items for art,” he said. “These may be a desire to try new things, a sense of innovation and creativity. The produced items can be displayed inside homes as decorations, in public places and even in schools, depending on the objects," he added, as he called on other Gaza artists to use recycled materials.

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