Palestinian artist prevented from attending Greenbelt Festival

31 August 2018

Church Times

Lady in Darkness Without Electricity. See gallery for more images

Lady in Darkness Without Electricity. See gallery for more images

THE UK last week refused to grant a visa to a teenage Palestinian artist, Malak Mattar, 24 hours before she was due to appear at the Greenbelt Festival. Ms Mattar, an 18-year-old from Gaza who speaks four languages, is currently in Istanbul, studying politics.

Greenbelt had been planning for her visit for 15 months, and believed that it had everything in order for a successful visa application. As well as a formal invitation and details of where Ms Mattar would be staying, they sent the UK embassy in Turkey a supportive letter from Baroness Warsi, a former Cabinet minister, who spoke at Greenbelt last year.

Last Friday, they learnt that the visa application had been refused on the grounds that Ms Mattar could not prove her status as a student (her university is closed for a holiday), and the financial details that she produced did not account sufficiently for the irregular payments made to her. These were from the sale of paintings.

An exhibition of her work was mounted in a gallery in Boughton House, next to the Greenbelt Festival site. A scheduled interview had to be done by Skype, and recorded. In it, she spoke several times of the sadness caused by the many occasions on which she had been restricted. She has never seen an exhibition of her paintings (News, 24 August). This collection of her work appeared earlier in Avignon and Paris, and, again, she was unable to obtain a visa.

Ms Mattar began painting at the age of 14, and she speaks of art as a means of survival. Her portraits are overtly political, as shown by their titles: Caged; Lady in Darkness without Electricity; Exile, The Prison of Gaza; etc. Her largest work in the exhibition was What if Kings Played Music Instead of Starting Wars.

The artworks will remain in the UK until 20 September. Prices range from £400 to £1500. Anyone interested in buying one should email Peter Bigg on peter.bigg@btinternet.com.

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