Yale Daily News
The Yale Divinity School is hosting a photography exhibition of works from senior lecturer emerita in religious studies Margaret Olin, titled “Gone Like a Sip of Water.”
The display is located in the school’s Sarah Smith Gallery and is a collection of photographs that Olin took during her visits to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in the Levant from 2014-2019. “Gone Like a Sip of Water” is the latest of several exhibitions shown at the Divinity School. Olin described her work as a “photographic study” of the streetscapes of the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, with a particular focus on the role of martyr murals. Olin hopes to explore how people lived among them, and how these murals created and shaped the space there. In addition to photography, Olin interviewed the artists of the murals and incorporated some aspects of these discussions into the exhibit.
“I didn’t need to illustrate the murals and just show you what the murals are,” Olin said. “I meant to show the life of the murals on the street and the life of the street is the children, and most of the martyrs are also children. It’s really meaningful to show the children playing on the street being really watched, by other children their age, and a bit older, certainly old enough to be their older siblings who didn’t, you know, get to grow up.”
The Dheisheh Refugee Camp is located just south of Bethlehem. It was established in 1949 as a tent-city, and over the years has transformed into an urban area with over 15,000 residents, with almost half of them being children.
Because of the camp’s skewed demographic, many of Olin’s photographs not only depict Dheisheh’s murals but also include the camp’s children — one photo shows two young boys riding on bikes, in another photo a child is in the foreground.
The phrase “gone like a sip of water” is an Arabic expression that is used to describe a sudden death. In her exhibition, Olin writes about the time she first heard the phrase. She was in conversation with Om Th’ar, a Palestinian woman whose 14-year-old grandson became the 31st Palestinian child killed by Israeli Defense Forces in 2018. Olin describes her relationship with Th’ar in the exhibition –– she met the 78-year-old during her 2018 visit and remembers Th’ar repeatedly inviting Olin into her home, offering her tea and asking Olin to tell her story.
It was this encounter that “crystallized” Olin’s interest in the murals that decorated the streets of Dheisheh. These murals depicted martyrs, or “shuhada,” like Th’ar’s grandson.
“In seeing the life of the young people in the streets lined with murals of martyrs, I realized that I was also anticipating some of their deaths,” Olin said.
Olin wanted to showcase three stories throughout her exhibition. One of them is the story of Th’ar, and another is highlighting a particular stock character that often appears throughout the streets of the camp.
In addition, Olin wanted to showcase the “intense” discourse among the artists.
“Palestine in no way is a univocal society, and there are artists with very different approaches to commemorating the martyrs for even different beliefs on whether or not one should commemorate the martyrs and which martyrs,” Olin said. “There’s discussion whether it would be better to cover the walls with cultural figures of Palestine. As one of [the artists] put it, do you want children to grow up thinking that they should throw rocks and Molotov cocktails and get shot at, or do you want children to grow up feeling like there’s a culture in Palestine worth saving?”
Ban-Souk Kim DIV ’20 highlighted the importance of “Gone Like a Sip of Water,” especially in the way it captures a different part of the world.
“It shows the reality of the world, that dangerous, terrible things happen on the other side of the world,” Kim said. “Everytime I see artists showcase their work here, it seems like they are trying to show that this is the real world, and as students we have a responsibility to have awareness of it.”
Olin states that “reading can be resistance” in her exhibition. Some people in the camp are trying to start a “free little library,” she said and host frequent teach-ins.
In addition to murals, quotes from Palestinian authors are often graffitied to the street walls. One wall says, “you have something in this world, so stand up,” citing Ghassan Kanifani.
“Whether or not we know what we have got to do in the world, we still live in the knowledge that there is something,” an unidentified artist whom Olin interviewed in the camp said regarding the significance of the murals.
The Divinity School was founded in 1822.