Through hip hop, a different Palestine
Filmmaker Jackie Salloum goes outside of mainstream news to portray Palestine
By Michele Yankson, Daily Arts Writer on 11/7/07
No one, it seems, can really claim hip hop. There is the story of urban malaise: African-American rap artists using the realities of inner-city strife to create lyrics that resonate and inspire, provoke and challenge. But with these elements - that is, the translation of a bleak reality into powerful art - hip hop has the capacity to reach past the boundaries of a single race, culture or country.
In efforts to familiarize the student community with a different perspective of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Students Allies for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) will present "Palestine through Art" at the Michigan League Hussey Room tonight at 8 p.m. The event will showcase art, film and a little-know genre of music, Palestinian hip hop, as a way to enter and expand the minds of its audience.
"We want to show the facts about what's going on in Palestine from a Palestinian perspective, "said Hena Ashraf, a SAFE member and LSA senior. "It goes into essence of what hip hop is about, representing your life and struggles how they really are."
Detroit-based rapper Invincible will appear at the event. Her lyrics, delivered in a bold tenor, are influenced by her experience as a Palestinian living in America. Her music, over tracks that infuse steady hip-hop beats with Arabic vocals and instruments, is a testament to hip hop's increasing universality.
The event's centerpiece is a preview by the filmmaker and multimedia artist Jackie Salloum of excerpts from her upcoming documentary "SlingShot HipHop." The film focuses on the music, lives and sentiments of several Palestinian hip-hop artists living in Palestine.
Much of the West's relationship with Palestine ostensibly comes through dense news coverage and political debate. Salloum, a Farmington Hills native of Palestinian descent, seeks to challenge these purported truths with those untouched by the media's often-distorting lens.
"What triggered my work on Palestine was the killings in Jenin," Salloum said. "I heard a Palestinian rap song (about the killings) on a radio station in New York and realized the strength of hip hop as a way to cross boundaries and inform, as everyone can understand it."
Subjects like Jenin - a refugee camp which, in 2002, was the site of a disputed number of Palestinian deaths - are potentially dangerous territory to align one's art with. Salloum, however, isn't detracted by possible dissent.
"When I first showed my art in class, (my peers) said it was too politically charged and biased," said Salloum, who attended New York University for her graduate studies. "I would always say, 'It's art. It's supposed to be biased!' "
Salloum focuses much of her work on politicized topics with an unconventional approach. Her website (jsalloum.org) showcases many of her multimedia pieces, including her "toys," creations that juxtapose the kitschy with the intense. "Gumball Machine" holds tiny figurines of "Palestinian refugees" with the mantra "Collect All 5 million!" Her "Cateropillar" is a tiny bulldozer in a yellow plastic package that warns "Harmful to Palestinian life" in the lower left corner.
Whatever Salloum's bias, there is much to be said for the tenacity of the hip-hop artists she features in her film. Musicians who went from virtually having no production resources - for example, having to download tracks from the Internet to rap over - to performing to crowds of thousands in Jordan
"I see their music as a powerful form of resistance," Salloum said.
"Palestine through Art" was conceived with the hope to transform Palestinian hip hop from a little-known genre to a lasting art with an indelible message. At its core is the using of one's voice to alter an attitude, expand a mind. In that right, the only claim belongs to the one with the mic.
Palestine Through Art Today at 8 p.m. At the Hussey Room in the Michigan League Free