DUBAI Tents, flags and boats are images all too familiar to Palestinian refugees.
As Israel celebrates the 60th anniversary of its birth, Palestinian artist Jeffar Khaldi emphasizes those emblems in his "Wish You Were Here" exhibition as a reminder of his people's "Nakba" or "catastrophe" of displacement.
"I am not a political artist, but I feel very strongly about my cause and, as a painter, I feel responsible to do some powerful work to reflect our strong cause," Khaldi told Reuters at the opening of his show in Dubai, where he lives and works.
"Some of my work is about exodus, loss, refugee camps, tents... and to remind people of our story that has been going on for 60 years, I included these works in that exhibition."
Some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in the war that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. About 4.5 million refugees and their descendents now live in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The history of Khaldi's family, like that of many other Palestinian refugees, spans three generations of diaspora that began with the flight of his grandparents to a camp in Lebanon.
"My grandmother always told me about the house they had in Palestine, the land, the people and the kind of life they had until in a split second they were running for their life on the back of donkeys," Khaldi said.
In an oil-on-canvas titled "Phase Two," Khaldi depicts dozens of tents piled atop each other in a wooden boat on a lake, as a man holding what appears to be a baby looks on.
In another painting, two Palestinian flags are juxtaposed, carrying two skulls and the word "heaven."
Khaldi's father refused to stay in the camps to await, like so many refugees, a return home, moving to Beirut to find education and work. From there, he moved to the United States.
"I grew up during part of the civil war in Lebanon, during the chaos, the craziness and that sort of made me what I am," he said. "My first drawings were about body parts, I was drawing people burning when other students were not doing that."
Khaldi said his paintings of bloodied body parts were inspired by Francisco Goya's Black Paintings, conceived against the backdrop of the French invasion of Spain in the early 1800s.
After completing a degree in interior architecture and decorative painting in Texas, he moved to Dubai and was gradually introduced to Middle Eastern arts.
Influenced as much by German expressionism as Arabic calligraphy, he feels that his understanding of both East and West could help him find international credit.
"I am proud to be a Palestinian and an artist so I could show the world what's happening in our cause," he said. "But I would also like to be seen as a contemporary artist, part of the emerging artists of the Middle East and the West as well."
Khaldi's exhibition is showing at Dubai's B21 gallery at Al Quoz industrial area.
(Editing by Lin Noueihed)