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'I want to make beauty from this ugliness', says Gaza's first calligraffiti artist

Belal Khaled puts the finishing touches on a 50-metre long artwork in Gaza in July 2021 [Majdi Fathi]
Belal Khaled puts the finishing touches on a 50-metre long artwork in Gaza in July 2021 [Majdi Fathi]

'The soul that fights in us' are the words which Palestinian artist Belal Khaled spent four days drawing onto the 50 metre long, seven metre high bombed wall of a building in Gaza. With a flat brush and a bucket brimming with colours, Belal translated the Palestinian people's feelings into a thick calligraphic piece that winds around itself.

"We chose this phrase to express every fighting spirit in every young man, woman, child and every soul in our Palestinian society. All their souls are fighting for the liberation of Palestine," Belal tells MEMO.

Belal is a Palestinian artist who was born in Khan Yunis city in the southern Gaza Strip. He has been creating pieces made up of calligraphy for more than 15 years. "I started practicing this art when I was 14 years old," he explains. After graduating from university, Belal concentrate on this art form to become the first person to bring calligraffiti – the art of combining calligraphy, typography and graffiti – to Gaza. From cars, handbags, walls as well as human bodies, Khaled leaves his prints everywhere.

"I created my own identity for Arabic calligraphy by inserting it on all the necessities of life, such as cars, shops, walls and clothes."

"The art of calligraffiti is the art of discovering what you believe," Belal says. "Converting fonts into paintings is my own style. I am trying to spread the culture of Arabic calligraphy and its beauties to the world. Our Arabic language has its own charm that it carries and adds a certain beauty to the letters."

Through this art form, Belal hopes to encourage people to return to writing Arabic using a pencil and paper, and not rely solely on typing.

His artwork has now been displaced in the US, UK, France and a number of other European countries.

"I have travelled around the world, drawn many digital portraits, painted faces and participated in many exhibitions," he says. Every stroke of his brush, he adds, has a meaning and reason.

"I also work as a photojournalist and I have a lot of pictures that have spread around the world from the Gaza war, the Syrian war, the refugee crisis in Europe and Greece, the Azerbaijan war and many other hot spots."

During the last Israeli aggression on Gaza, Khaled documented the bombing campaign and highlighted the situation to the world. When the ceasefire was agreed, his work didn't stop, he put on a safety helmet and an armoured vest, picked up his flat brush and rushed to the scenes of destruction.

When he found an unexploded missile he covered it with the words "Here, the child and the sheikh die and we do not give up. A mother collapses on her dead children and we do not give up."

On the remains of the Jalaa Tower, which housed foreign media companies including the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, he wrote: "Journalism is not a crime."

Belal Khaled paints an unexploded missile in Gaza May 2021 [Mustafa Hassona]

Belal Khaled paints an unexploded missile in Gaza May 2021 [Mustafa Hassona]

In both his work as a photojournalist and as an artist, Belal wants the world to see another side of Gaza, to introduce them to the beauty beneath the destruction and the how people survive and live. "It is the artist and the photojournalist who are out there to show the world what is happening."

I want to make something beautiful out of this ugliness. I want to find life and beauty in the midst of all this death and destruction.

Though he now lives in Turkey, he says he is going to continue spending time in Gaza for the foreseeable future to document the post-war landscape. His calligraffiti offers a glimmer of hope to the densely populated enclave.

Belal Khaled works on his calligraffiti project [Majdi Fathi]

Belal Khaled works on his calligraffiti project [Majdi Fathi]

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once said: "We love life if we find a way to it." Palestinians proves every day that they love life and insist on turning the destruction into life. Belal works to make Darwish's words come to life. In each of his pieces of art – both as a photographer and as a calligraphist – Belal shows the world not only the true image of the Israeli occupation's savagery but also the beauty within every Palestinian soul.

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