“This is my home,” were the words spoken to Gaza-born artist Malak Mattar by an elderly Palestinian woman when, in April 2021, her own house in East Jerusalem was invaded by illegal Israeli settlers. Soon after, Mattar decided to transform this simple but poignant phrase into a work of art. The resulting painting, which depicts a woman embracing her city as locks of her hair intertwine with the buildings and windows like roots of a tree, is a powerful visualization of the unbreakable bond between Palestinians and their ancestral home.
However, for countless Palestinians, the basic human right to live in their homeland without the fear of sudden forced displacement or death has been stripped away from them. Mattar’s paintings of Palestinian women - women who are strong, women who grieve, and women who seek peace and healing - are a reflection of herself and of the people who surround her, echoing their collective dream for a better future devoid of the oppression and misogyny that they face today.
From a young age, Mattar has been channelling her lived experiences into her artwork. In 2014, when Mattar was just 13 years old, Israel launched a 51-day attack upon the people of Gaza, including Mattar and her family. During this period of unimaginable horror, Mattar turned to painting as a means of coping - as a way of facing life even when the threat of death was looming over her and her loved ones.
“I decided to draw to escape the feelings of terror and the fear of dying,” says Mattar in an interview with News Click, as she recounts the traumatic events that became the impetus for her artistic practice.
Seven years, hundreds of paintings, and multiple exhibitions later, Mattar is an established artist of international acclaim. Her work centers on human rights, drawing attention to the oppression and inequalities facing her people by highlighting both the suffering and the strength of the people of Palestine. Creating portraits of women in her family and from her community, her paintings honour these women while paying tribute to their fortitude and wisdom in the face of injustice. In denouncing war and uplifting women, her practice powerfully illustrates the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on Gender Equality and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
The dove - understood across linguistic and national barriers as a symbol of peace - is a motif that reappears throughout her work, representing the peaceful existence that every human deserves. Yet, at the age of just 21, Mattar has witnessed more violence and destruction than anyone ever should. The most recent assault on Gaza in May 2021, the worst she has ever seen, marked the fourth Israeli attack that she has survived.
For this reason, success means very little to Mattar when being alive to see the next day is not a guarantee. As she states when asked about the future of her career: “What is the value of these achievements if my life is at risk?”
Bearing witness to the trauma inflicted by Israeli occupation and gender-based violence, Mattar feels compelled to offer healing and solutions through her artwork. Underneath a painting of a woman gently cradling a dove, she writes, “Peace starts within our hearts and minds, the world around us will never reflect peace unless we have it within us.”
However, as viewers of her work, Mattar does not want us to be complacent with dreams of peace. She reminds us of our responsibility to actively support the people of Palestine so that this peace may soon be realized, telling us: “Don’t just be concerned. Take action.”
Despite the recent bombings that have destroyed the only art supply store in Gaza, Mattar’s shop remains open, with100 percent of the proceeds going towards supporting her and her family. You can buy her paintings at her online store, here.