My Palestine

by Rana Akleh


At this moment in time, there are two words that describe me: scientist and artist. While I am more than these things, usually I am doing either some form of science or art. In fact, I commonly argue that these two are intertwined, despite their seemingly opposite nature. To be a scientist requires an artistic creativity to open up the mind to discover new things, and being an artist is heightening the senses to explore and depict the world viewed only through the artist’s eyes. So if I am not discovering new things about viruses, I am trying to recreate my observed world through art.

When I came back from my 6-week trip to Palestine, my artistic side yearned to document my experiences in the West Bank through art. However, I couldn’t pinpoint the best way to do that. I wanted to communicate “my” Palestine to my audience and I wanted to do it in a way where my artwork would make Palestinians proud. As I was attempting to redefine my art to encompass Palestine, I read a poem called Invictus by William Ernest Henley. As I read this poem, the faces of the new generation of Palestinians flashed in my mind.

Out of the night that covers me

Black as the Pit from pole to pole

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Thus, I was inspired. The ink of the marker was flowing on paper, my hand attempting to draw the faces of these Palestinians. Each artwork depicted here represents a stanza of this poem: the young Muslim woman praying and, thanking God for her unconquerable soul in the midst of occupation, the young man with his back turned and his head high despite the occupations perpetuation, the aged gentleman with a continued determination and a fearlessness in his eyes, and the young girl ready to take on the world.

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The last piece in the series is of a woman covered in a shawl, with melancholy and heartbreak washed over her face. I saw a picture of a woman, which inspired this piece. In this picture, the light was cast on the woman to illuminate her beauty, but the light displayed her internal sadness. It was captivating to see a juxtaposition of grief and poignancy in such a heavenly light. I attempted to create that disparity in this artwork through colored pencils. People living under occupation demonstrate their strength, resistance, defiance, and rarely often show the opposite. However, in certain moments in just the right light, their raw emotions are revealed on their face. This piece was meant to encapsulate that small moment of authenticity.

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These five pieces are my homage to my homeland. This is my Palestine.

Also, don’t forget to check out episode 2 of Palestinians Podcast featuring Rana Akleh.  Click here to listen!