At the Arab World Institute, a Gazan museum in the clouds

“Sahab, the cloud museum”, from the Hawaf collective.

“Peace for Gaza, peace peace peace!” » This plea, accompanying a video taken during a recreational workshop organized for children, to Al-Ahli hospital, constitute the last words of Palestinian artist Mohamed Sami Qraiqa, 24, published on October 17 on Instagram, before his death under the bombings. With thirteen other visual artists, the young man took part in the Cloud Workshop, a large panorama produced at the initiative of the Hawaf collective (“margins”, in Arabic), visible until December 31 in the exhibition “Ce que Palestine brings to the world”, at the Institute of the Arab World (IMA), in Paris.

The canvas, sewn in Gaza, represents a large bluish cloud, crossed by a flight of steps that men and women travel unhindered. “The cloud is a comforting image when we are children, we dream of snuggling up and falling asleep there. It’s also the cloud, where we keep digital data”explains Salman Nawati, co-founder of the collective which was created in Gaza, on the initiative of three artists and an architect.

It all starts in 2021, when the Franco-Algerian visual artist Mohamed Bourouissa goes to the Palestinian enclave to shoot a film there. From his meeting with Salman Nawati, the artist Mohamed Abusal and the architect Sondos Al-Nakhala, emerges the utopia of a museum, virtual at first, to protect the archaeological, historical and artistic heritage of this strip of land under embargo. “We cannot have a physical museum in Gaza, it would be impossible to protect in a context of siege, where conflicts arise at least every two years”says Salman Nawati, who then imagines the formula of Sahab (“cloud”).

Collective canvas

The project matured over the course of Zoom meetings before taking shape during a residency for two members of Hawaf at the Cité des arts in Paris. One evening, around maqloubeh – a typical Palestinian dish, composed of rice, meat and vegetables – the artists of the collective and those of the Palestinian diaspora exchange their visions on the contours of this “museum of clouds”. “We want to show the humanity of the people of Gaza, reduce the isolation of the enclave and bridge the gap that separates it from the rest of the world”explains Marion Slitine, a French researcher, member of the collective which now brings together around twenty artists.

Last spring, Hawaf brought together around fifteen young Gazan visual artists at the Eltiqa gallery, one of only two art venues in the city. Each participant in the Cloud Workshop was asked to select a work or object from their daily life and donate them to the Sahab Museum, which then digitized them. The latter, scanned in this way, are hidden in the framework of the painting visible at the IMA, using an augmented reality device.

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