Bethlehem Cultural Festival

Healing through Art

Malak Mattar, Hannah Rose Thomas and Elizabeth Filippouli

Malak Mattar and Hannah Rose Thomas in conversation with Elizabeth Filippouli.

Malak Mattar joins the festival from Gaza in person to discuss the impact of war on her art and the influences that mould her artwork. Malak Matar is a self-taught expressionist artist, her colorful paintings pay homage to her hometown Gaza in which she grew up and lived through the hardships of war.

Malak started painting at the age of 14 during the 51-day military assault on Gaza in 201. Her work explores womanhood, homeland, and family, focusing on expressionist faces, figures, and semi-abstract designs. Her works drew interest from galleries and museums around the world, as her paintings have been featured in individual and group exhibitions in Costa Rica, England, France, India, Palestine, Scotland, Spain, Holland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, and eleven US states. She is also the author and illustrator of Sitti’s Bird, a children’s book based on her own life story. 

Malak Mattar

Mattar, age 21, paints powerfully expressionist faces, figures, and semi-abstract designs. She first started painting at age 13, during the 51-day Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2014. Forced to stay inside for her own safety, Malak says, “I felt a compelling need to release all my negative energy—fear, anxiety, and sheer terror.” She started painting with school art supplies, using basic watercolor on paper. A world of self-expression opened for her. 

Unable to leave Gaza due to the Israeli blockade, Malak showed her paintings to the world through social media, on Instagram and Facebook. On her fourteenth birthday, she began offering her originals for sale to buyers around the world. Within two years, she became financially independent. Mattar’s artwork soon garnered interest from galleries beyond Palestine. Her artwork has been featured in many individual and group exhibitions in Jerusalem, France, Spain, Turkey, Costa Rica, India, England, and the United States, including the Art under Siege exhibit at the Rayburn House, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

Malak also`excelled academically, achieving the highest grade average in the Gaza Strip in her senior year of high school, and the second highest grade average in all of Palestine—the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She won a full scholarship to Aydin University in Turkey, where she currently lives.

Malak now paints in both acrylic and oils on canvas. The motifs of her paintings range from visceral feelings to dream visions to abstract concepts. One of her best-known paintings features a woman with an ocean-blue face and a meditative expression, her profile emerging, like the dark side of the moon, from a vivid orange planet. The whorls of her curly hair encircle the planet. with some curls breaking free to float in space. This painting was chosen as the cover art for the book We Are Not Numbers, a book featuring the narratives of young Palestinian adults about their experiences under siege.

Recent highlights of Malak’s career include a tour of the United States in 2020, including speaking engagements on college campuses—Yale University, Smith College, Manhattan College, UMass Boston, and others. Recent exhibits include a solo exhibition at the Cultural House in Frieburg, Germany, a group exhibition at the Museum of the Palestinian People in WA, DC, and a group exhibition in Einhoven, Holland, titled Post Colonization (all in 2020).

In 2021, Malak published her first book, Grandma’s Bird, an autobiographical children’s story that describes how a young girl in Gaza learns to control her fears through creativity, finding freedom even under occupation—and, ultimately, a way out to the wider world. Published by the UK-based Hands Up Project, a percentage of proceeds go to the project, which helps children in difficult circumstances, including Palestine, use language enhanced through creativity, performance, and collaborative interaction. 

“I strive to be an artist and ambassador for Palestinian people all over the world,” Malak says. She adds, “Every human being should be able to live in peace no matter what their origins are. The real victims are the children. If they survive war, they also have to survive living after the war

Malak Mattar

Elizabeth Filippouli

Elizabeth Filippouli is an international journalist and writer, her latest book ‘From Women to the World’ was published by Bloomsbury UK in 2021 and is a book that shows us the power that women have not just to inspire each other, but also to motivate and reinvent our world.

She is the Founder of Global Thinkers Forum (GTF) an independent civil society agency incubated at the University of Oxford. It was launched in Jordan in 2012 under the patronage of Queen Rania of Jordan and developed into a global network of thought leaders promoting values-driven leadership, also supporting women and youth empowerment through mentoring programmes reaching more than 70 countries, and other initiatives.

She joined CNN International as World Report contributor in 2000 and Al Jazeera English as presenter and documentary producer in 2005. For Al Jazeera English she produced investigative documentaries, among them: Greekgate, Italygate, A King Without a Country. Over her career she interviewed leading figures such as: Ted Turner, James Rubin, Deepak Chopra, Mohamed El Baradei, Santiago Calatrava, Enrique Oltuski, Alberto Juantorena, Chris Cramer, Al Gore, Susan Sarandon, Lord Robertson, Christiane Amanpour, Peter Arnett, King Constantine of Greece, Lord Sebastian Coe.

Her book ‘From Women to the World-Letters for a New Century’ was published by IB Tauris in July 2021 and through personal narratives and real-life stories, she raises awareness around social issues such as gender equality, homelessness, war, LGBTQ activism, mental health, COVID-19, the refugee crisis. The book received praise in the international press, Vanity Fair, The Independent, The Guardian, The New Arab, The National, Vogue Arabia, and it was presented at the Hay Festival in May 2021 with excerpts read by actresses Kate Winslet, Juliet Stephenson, Suzanne Packer, Vanessa Redgrave, Louise Brealey, Livia Firth, Dame Stephanie Shirley and was also translated to Greek. Her first nonfiction book ‘The Invisible Reality’ was published in Greece in 2004.

In 2018 Elizabeth launched Athena40, a family of diverse initiatives that advance women in leadership by creating recognition opportunities and connecting them with peers around the world. Elizabeth has served on the Global Advisory Board of the Prince’s Trust International and the board of the International News Safety Institute.

Hannah Rose Thomas

Hannah Rose Thomas is a British artist and an UNESCO PhD Scholar at the University of Glasgow. She has previously organised art projects for Syrian refugees in Jordan; Yazidi women who escaped ISIS captivity in Iraqi Kurdistan; Rohingya refugees in Bangladeshi camps and Nigerian women survivors of Boko Haram. Her paintings of displaced women are a testament to their strength and dignity. These have been exhibited at places including the International Peace Institute in New York, UK Houses of Parliament, European Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Buckingham Palace, GCHQ, FCO, Lambeth Palace, Westminster Abbey and The Saatchi Gallery. Her exhibition ‘Tears of Gold’was featured in the virtual exhibition for the UN’s Official 75th Anniversary, ‘The Future is Unwritten: Artists for Tomorrow.’ Hannah was selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 2019 Art & Culture; shortlisted for the Women of the Future Award 2020 and selected for Vogue Future Visionaries 2022.

Instagram: @hannahrosethomas

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