Al Jazeera Egypt shared a video of a Palestinian artist, from Gaza, declaring his support for his homeland at the GQ Man of the Year Awards which took place in France on November 30, 2023.
The video, accompanied by the words “Palestinian artist wins international fashion award and challenges the organizers by discussing the occupation”, garnered thousands of views, likes, and comments in overwhelming support of the artist and his message.
However, what stands out is the lack of a clear introduction to the artist within the text. His name is briefly mentioned in the video (“Marwan Abdelhamid, an artist of Palestinian origin”), even though he is more commonly known by his alias Saint Levant. This lack of information is seemingly intentional, and makes it a challenge for those unfamiliar to identify the artist, particularly given his unconventional artistic sensibility that does not conform to the traditional canon of Palestinian art.
The violence directed at Saint Levant by some from within the Arab region, in addition to restrictions of speech imposed on him, reveals a prevalent, closed-minded attitude, where identity must fit within a ready-made framework.
After he collaborated on a song with Mia Khalifa, the American-Lebanese artist and former adult film star, Saint Levant faced backlash on social media.
In comments posted on his Instagram, the artist was attacked and accused of abandoning his cause. Some commenters suggested that Saint Levant does not represent Palestinians or their cause. Some urged him to stop calling himself Palestinian, believing that he has no connection to the country. Other comments were targeted towards Mia Khalifa. But then comments shifted, into applause, praising the solidarity with Gaza he expressed at the GQ Man of the Year Awards in Paris, with little to no understanding of Saint Levant’s artistic practice or content of his work.
The violence directed at Saint Levant by some from within the Arab region, in addition to imposing restrictions on his acceptance speech in order to avoid mention of his Palestinian identity, reveals a prevalent, closed-minded attitude, where identity must fit within a ready-made framework and certain preconceived notions.
Marwan Abdelhamid, or Saint Levant, was born to a French mother of Algerian origin and a Serbian father. He was born and raised in Gaza before moving to Jordan with his family, and eventually, continuing his education in the United States.
Through the music of Saint Levant, we are invited to question if Palestinians can exercise the right to express themselves however they wish to – whether as lovers, artists, or fighters?
Abdelhamid’s rich identity and distinct experience is reflected in his art, which transcends certain traditional and cultural contexts.
His songs are characterized by their contemporary melodies and rap lyrics, which are seamlessly sung in his three native languages: Arabic, English, and French. In his trilingual lyrics, Abdelhamid fearlessly lays bare his love for his homeland and offers unmasked satire at those in power who overlook his cause.
The artist wears flashy, bright and youthful outfits, which he accessorizes with the Palestinian keffiyeh (headscarf) and a tarboush (traditional cap or fez). Vibrant-colored nail polish and woolen vests further challenge certain accepted narratives that define what the Palestinian male body should be: a single, monolithic vision – either terrorist or victim.
In his song From Gaza with Love, Abdelhamid sings about Gaza as the land of love, in which love is declared for “bint bladi” (the daughter of his homeland), despite the barriers and violence imposed by the occupier. In the song, which is accompanied by a retro music video in which the artist dons clothing from the 80s and 90s, he playfully mocks the occupier in French and narrates some of the difficulties he has faced.
In songs and videos such as this, Marwan Abdelhamid, or Saint Levant, breaks from the limited narrative that much of the world uses to contextualize the Palestinian body, and presents the Palestinian man as a contemporary being with a love of life and an affinity for the arts. Many, even in the Arab region, stereotype the Palestinian body as either a hero, resistance fighter, or martyr, while the occupier pushes the narrative of terrorist, invader, and perpetrator of violence. Can Palestinians exercise the right to express themselves as they choose– as lovers, artists, or fighters?
Saint Levant breaks from the limited narrative that much of the world uses to contextualize the Palestinian body, and presents the Palestinian man as a contemporary being with a love of life and an affinity for the arts.
Saint Levant has consistently spoken about the Palestinian cause on various occasions and platforms, such as on French television, where he referenced the Israeli attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in April 2023.
His latest display of solidarity with Gaza (even though he was explicitly urged to not to publicly address the war), underscores the significance of his political role, alongside his artistic contributions, in representing a cause that is often silenced in Europe.
However his stance was not enough to grant him recognition as a Palestinian artist. Instead, Saint Levant has been the subject of criticism and subjected to questions about his identity and affiliation to Gaza. This critique reflects the rejection of diverse identities, which many still insist on being able to place within rigid or opposing boxes. According to this, displays of emotions strip a man of his nationalism.
As we hope for an end to the Israeli aggression against the people of Gaza, we dream of a peaceful future where the discourse of rejecting 'the other' ceases, and where all groups have the right to live a just and dignified life without discrimination
The public rejection of seemingly contrasting dualities fails to acknowledge that each supposedly clashing identity enriches and reinforces the other. Reducing identity to a fixed framework is an act of exclusion, and limits the space for freedom, including the right to maintain a national identity.
Within the landscape of Palestinian solidarity, numerous artists in the LGBTQ+ community have expressed support. Hamed Sinno, the Lebanese-American lead singer of Mashrou' Leila, recently took to Instagram to express his solidarity with Palestine. His post, which was shared in English, addressed a diverse audience, and in addition to receiving support, was met with messages of opposition from extremist groups and followers.
Zyad Seblany, more commonly known as Kawkab Zuhal, also declared support for Palestine on his Instagram page. As did Mia Khalifa, despite Zionist lobbies threatening to boycott artists that expressed solidarity with Palestine.
Within the landscape of Palestinian solidarity, numerous artists in the LGBTQ+ community have expressed support. Campaigns seeking to strip this community of its national identity and deny its connection to the Arab region fail to comprehend the diversity of our identities.
Campaigns seeking to strip the LGBTQ+ community of its national identity and deny its connection to the Arab region fail to comprehend the diversity of our identities. It also underscores the limitations of a rigid, monolithic discourse in understanding the complexity of our present experiences.
It is important to highlight the efforts of those individuals whose support of Palestine may result in irreparable losses. These efforts come amid the absence of Arab governments, who should be at the forefront of this confrontation instead of abandoning Gazans and those who stand in solidarity with them.
In conclusion, as we hope for an end to the Israeli aggression against the people of Gaza, we dream of a peaceful future where the discourse of rejecting 'the other' ceases, and where all groups have the right to live a just and dignified life without discrimination
With the inability to halt the Israeli aggression on Gaza, humanitarian initiatives from artists, despite imposed suppression, become humane stances deserving appreciation, love and support.
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22
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