May 2007

Picture Balata Youth Photography Tour Opens in New York City

The national tour of Picture Balata, a project designed to support photography and art by young people in the Balata refugee camp outside Nablus in Palestine’s West Bank, launched on April 6, 2007 in New York City, at the Brecht Forum. Hosted in New York City by Al-Awda New York, the opening night for Picture Balata’s photography exhibition and tour brought hundreds to the Brecht Forum to view the work of the young people who are part of the program, and to hear three young photographers from Balata speak about their experiences and their work.

Hadil, Sabreen and Taha of Picture Balata speak at the New York
City opening event April 6. Randa Jamal (r) translated from Arabic
to English. Some of the Balata photographers’ work was displayed in a
slideshow on the wall behind them as they spoke. (Photo: Noel Winkler)
The Picture Balata program began when Matthew Cassel, a photographer and solidarity activist from Chicago, worked with Mohamed Farraj, a community activist in Balata, to bring together young people with an interest in learning photography in Balata camp. Cassel worked with them, teaching photographic techniques and skills. The resulting photographic work was exhibited in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, Pittsburgh and Youngstown as part of the tour, organized to raise money to purchase laptops, digital cameras, and other equipment that will enable Balata’s young photographers both to continue their work and to communicate with the world, using blogging software and an Internet connection to upload photos.

Sabreen, Taha, and Hadil, three of the young photographers, traveled to the U.S. for this tour, accompanied by Hadil’s father, Abu Jobran. One of the other photographers in the program, Mohammad, or “Butch,” was denied a visa to the U.S. shortly before the tour was to begin, and was unable to join the group. The Picture Balata group was enthusiastically welcomed to New York, their first stop on the tour, where they received widespread support, including a donation by New York University’s Arab Students United of all proceeds from its Tarab cultural event, as well as support of the Arab American Association of New York for the housing and hosting of the Picture Balata group.

The Brecht Forum was packed with visitors eager to see the photography of the young people of Balata, as well as hear their stories and their experiences. The event brought in thousands of dollars to support the Picture Balata project.

This experience was repeated in every city visited by the tour, which concluded in San Francisco on April 15. Every event in each city was a strong success in fundraising and outreach for the project; the exhibition in New York closed on April 24, with a closing celebration that continued to raise funds for the project.

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