Immediately following Israel’s November 2012 invasion of the Gaza Strip, deceptively dubbed “Operation Pillar of Defense”, we published a collection of remarkable photographs captured by young Egyptian activist and photojournalist Mosa’ab Elshamy. In the midst of covering Egypt’s revolution, Elshamy managed to visit Gaza just days into Israel’s full-scale assault. His photographs introduced the world to Gaza’s very grim reality. But the bleak scenes also painted a picture of resilience, of Palestinians finding the strength to overcome the destruction that befell them.
One such photograph captured the eye of Summer Issa, a talented painter who was looking to recreate an iconic image for a school assignment. The original image shows a smiling boy surrounded by his friends, all of whom are holding up their two fingers in the shape of a V for victory.
Asked why she chose to recreate this photograph, Issa pointed to the boy’s glowing smile.
“Even with the scar on his chin and the rundown building just behind him, he could not give us anything less than a smile,” she said. “My professor always encouraged me to paint something that had some type of emotional connection to me. I felt really inspired to paint this picture because there was something about his smile that made me feel at ease.”
Her painting differs slightly from Elshamy’s original photograph. For example, the children in the background are replaced by a tree, which is quite symbolic in Palestinian culture. Additionally, around the smiling boy’s hand is a shackle with a broken chain.
“I wanted to reconstruct the scene in the way that I perceived it,” Issa remarked.
Despite her attachment to the painting, Issa doesn’t plan on keeping it for herself. Instead, she hopes to auction it off and donate the proceeds to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), a non-profit organization that provides Palestinian children with highly specialized medical care free of charge.
Issa, who is preparing to enter dental school, will be joining a PCRF-led relief mission to the West Bank in the coming fall. She intends to lead future relief missions once she becomes a practicing dentist.
For now, Issa’s focus is on the role of art in expressing the Palestinian experience.
“With the struggles Palestine has undergone and continues to undergo, art is a way for others in the world to learn a more personalized story, one that the media does not tell.”
She adds that the point of her painting was “to emphasize the photograph’s underlying message of peace and resilience through oppression.”