TRAVELOGUE///KELSEY BROOKES IN PALESTINE…

December 18, 2007  |  art, Banksy, Feature, Worldwide

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Faile getting busy on the big wall in Bethlehem...

Somewhere in-between his many world tours, artist & surfer KELSEY BROOKES somehow finds time to make art. He's just returned from a weeklong trip to Bethlehem to participate in the annual SANTA'S GHETTO charity art auction and he brought us this report:

Most of the time being a painter means long hours spent working alone in your studio trying to realize your latest creation. Sometimes though it means sneaking through military checkpoints, long airport interrogations, cover stories and traveling to “off limit" parts of the world to help people less fortunate than you. This years Santa's Ghetto (Pictures On Walls' annual art show) took place in the West Bank and sought to "simply offer the ink-stained hand of friendship to ordinary people in an extraordinary situation."

Here is what POW has to say about it:
“Santa's Ghetto is probably the world's most low-concept art event. Every year we assemble a loose collection of the great unwashed to hawk their artistic wares on the high street amongst the mindless sham and drudgery of the Christmas season. This year we've moved out of Oxford Street into a former chicken shop on Manger Square in Bethlehem opposite the Church of the Nativity (where Santa Claus was actually born). This puts us one mile behind the security wall in a part of the world ravaged by conflict, poverty and dust. Just the place, you'd think, that's desperate to check out the latest five-color deckled edge screen prints coming out of East London. You can watch the whole sorry thing unravel on-line but you're particularly welcome to come out and visit in person (you're probably far less likely to get randomly stabbed on the way home than you were last year)." It is also important to point out that all the proceeds from the Ghetto will be going to help and support Palestinian youth foundations...

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It took me about four hours to make it from the airport to this point most of which was spent being questioned and prodded by the Israeli airport security. (Note to others: don't go on a surf trip to Morocco right before you are planning to go to Israel.) This is the beginning of the wall that almost completely surrounds the West Bank and was my entrance to Bethlehem...

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I got in pretty late and decided to hit the sack to try and rest up. Woke up the next morning and found the same food that I just had for dinner on offer for breakfast. I pretty much ate the same thing for breakfast lunch and dinner the entire time I was there, but it was great food so I didn't mind at all. Lots of falafels, hummus, pita and really, really insanely strong coffee...

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This is the walk we had to do each morning on the way to the venue in Manger square, yes that manger. Pretty much straight up for a mile or so. As I would walk up this hill I would imagine all the former civilizations that had collapsed to make this hill even taller. This place has been lived on and contended over for the better part of 3,000 years. When one civilization collapsed the next would just come along and set up shop right on top of the previous one...

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A good way to break up the walk was to stop off and do some painting on the way. This is one of Banksy's many hits...

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This one made me laugh...

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This is the famous Manger Square, the birthplace of Santa Clause (aka: Jesus), the location of Santa's Ghetto and a good place to find a great falafel...

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This is the entrance to the Church of the Nativity. Way deep inside here is where Jesus was supposedly born. I went in and checked it out. Jesus wasn't there but lots and lots of hyped up Christians were. They were all climbing on top of each other to get down and see a patch of ground that looked like any other patch of ground. The vibe was kind of like a really intense day at Disneyland...

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This is the inside of the church. The chandeliers were really epic...

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Manger Square is the main meeting/gathering place for Bethlehem. 400 Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel this day and they all came to the square for a rally. Everyone was super psyched and they were going off. Guns were shot in the air, fire works were exploded, speeches were made everyone was stoked. 400 Palestinians were arrested the next week...

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Everyone had lots of images of Yasser Arafat pasted up everywhere. I talked to a few people about this and it seemed that everyone really loved Yasser and thought he would be the man to broker in the Palestinian state. When he died lots of hope died with him...

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Paul Insect took this photo at the rally. Most of us kinda stood on the fringes looking in. Not Paul, he got right in on the action and got some really amazing photos to show for it. I liked this one especially. It's kids like this that might be the ones to figure out how to do what their fathers and grandfathers before them could not...

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And this is it. This is the venue for Santa's Ghetto in Bethlehem. It used to be a chicken shop. Not so much has changed really...

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These next few photos are of the inside of the show and are pretty much self-explanatory...

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My piece in the show...

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Big baby Jesus...

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It's kind of hard to see what's going on here as my camera is not up to snuff. But this dollar bill is melting to reveal images of war and greed behind it. Really turned out beautiful and was created by Peter Kennard and Kat Phillips...

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Banksy...

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Gee Vaucher who also has a show opening up in San Francisco this week (December 14th) at Jack Handey gallery. Seriously, go see it!...

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This is a collaborative piece between Tawfiq Salsaa and Banksy. This entire thing, a scale model of Jerusalem was carved by hand. I liked this one...

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This first day I got to Bethlehem I took a long walk though the market and found a really cool stuffed animal shop. I bought a tiger and a cute little teddy bear and swapped their heads. It was fun...

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This is the other half of that effort...

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This is a painting I did while I was there. Kinda self-explanatory I think. Totally different from what I normally do but nothing there was normal...

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These are some carved olive wood replicas of the watchtowers that are dotted along the separation wall. These are not as ominous, looming and scary as the real things but way easier to take home...

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These are some blinged-out prayer hands that Gee Vaucher made...

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It's hard to see here but those balloons are covered in those little bullet hole stickers. So rad!...

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This is the workshop that we all used to paint, sculpt, saw, hammer, cut and fart in. Lots of work in progress here...

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Every year I have gone to Santa's Ghetto the location is different. But the one thing they always have in common is a blown up bathroom. This one was by far the most interesting of them all...

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Opening night was really mellow. We mostly just took it easy chatted and drank tea...

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Not really. We celebrated. The vibe was so amazing, everyone was smiling and happy, drinking and smoking liquorish flavored tobacco out of a giant water pipe, it was great. At the climax of the evening lots of people got up and danced as the rest of us threw plates at their feet. I was totally confused at first and was worried we were going to get kicked out of the restaurant until the owner came out from the back with a hand full of plates him self and started throwing them around. It was so rad!...

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This is the giant water pipe thing we were smoking out of...

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And this is some of the carnage that is left over when you dance in Palestine...

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The next few images are from the wall and are again pretty self-explanatory. This is Paul Insect's image there in the middle...

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Banksy...

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Sam3 and Eric the Dog...

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Paul Insect..

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This tiger was painted on a local truck. I really liked it...

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Blu at work...

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Faile in progress...

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Wisam and Sam3...

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Peter Kennard and Kat Phillips on the left Faile on the right...

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These martyr posters covered lots of the wall space in Bethlehem. A constant reminder of how bad things have been in this ancient city...

And that's what it is like to go to Bethlehem and help set up an art show. For a better and more articulate understanding of this show please go to Santasghetto.com. The statement below was lifted from the above website and is a far better summary than I have given here:

“Bethlehem is one of the most contentious places on earth. Perched at the edge of the Judaen desert at the intersection of Europe, Asia and Africa in the state of Palestine it was governed by the British following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. After World War II the United Nations voted to partition the region into two states - one Jewish, one Arab and there's been fighting ever since. It's obviously not the job of a loose collection of idiot doodlers to tell you what's right or wrong about this situation, so you're advised to do further reading yourself (this month's National Geographic has an excellent article all about Bethlehem). We would like to make it very clear Santa's Ghetto is not allied to ANY race, creed, religion, political organization or lobby group. As an organization the only thing we'll say on behalf of our artists is that we don't speak on behalf of our artists. This show simply offers the ink-stained hand of friendship to ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. Every shekel made in the store will be used on local projects for children and young people. Not one cent will go to any political groups, governmental institutions or, in fact, any grown-ups at all."

—Kelsey Brookes, December 18, 2007

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