‘Gone Like a Sip of Water’: A photography exhibition depicts the Dheisheh refugee camp

Alex Ori

11:38 p.m., April 14, 2022

Staff reporter

Yale Daily News

Yale Divinity School is hosting a photographic exhibition of the works of Margaret Olin, Distinguished Lecturer in Religious Studies, entitled “Gone Like a Sip of Water”.

The exhibit is located in the school’s Sarah Smith Gallery and is a collection of photographs Olin took during his visits to Dheisheh refugee camp in the Levant from 2014 to 2019. “Gone Like a Sip of Water” is the latest of several exhibitions presented at the Divinity School. Olin described his work as a “photographic study” of the streetscapes of the Dheisheh refugee camp, with particular emphasis on the role of the martyr murals. Olin hopes to explore how people lived among them and how these murals created and shaped the space there. In addition to the photography, Olin interviewed the artists of the murals and incorporated aspects of those discussions into the exhibit.

“I didn’t need to illustrate the murals and just show you what the murals are,” Olin said. “I wanted to show the life of the murals in the street and the life of the street is the children, and most of the martyrs are also children. It’s really significant to show that kids playing in the street are really watched, by other kids their own age, and a bit older, certainly old enough to be their older siblings who don’t have , you know, grown up.

Dheisheh refugee camp is located just south of Bethlehem. It was established in 1949 as a tent city and over the years has grown into an urban area with over 15,000 residents, almost half of whom are children.

Due to the camp’s skewed demographics, many of Olin’s photographs not only depict the Dheisheh murals, but also include the children of the camp – one photo shows two young boys on bicycles, in another photo a child is on the first plan.

The phrase “gone like a sip of water” is an Arabic phrase used to describe sudden death. In her exhibit, Olin writes about when 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 the Israel Defense Forces in 2018. Olin describes her relationship with Th’ar in the exhibit –– she met the 78-year-old when she visited in 2018 and recalls Th’ar repeatedly inviting Olin to 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’, such as Th’ar’s grandson.

“Seeing the lives of young people in the streets lined with murals of martyrs made me realize that I was also anticipating some of their deaths,” Olin said.

Olin wanted to feature three stories throughout his exhibit. One is the story of Th’ar, and another highlights a particular character who often appears on the streets of the camp.

In addition, Olin wanted to highlight the “intense” discourse between the artists.

“Palestine is by no means a one-size-fits-all society, and there are artists with very different approaches to commemorating the martyrs for even different beliefs about whether or not one should commemorate the martyrs and what martyrs,” Olin said. “There are discussions about whether it would be better to cover the walls with cultural figures from Palestine. As one of [the artists] In other words, do you want kids to grow up thinking they should be throwing rocks and molotovs and getting shot at, or do you want kids to grow up feeling like there’s a culture in Palestine worth saving? »

Ban-Souk Kim DIV ’20 highlighted the significance of “Gone Like a Sip of Water,” particularly in how it captures another part of the world.

“It shows the reality of the world, that dangerous and terrible things are happening on the other side of the world,” Kim said. “Every time I see artists showcasing their work here, it seems like they’re trying to show that this is the real world, and as students, we have a responsibility to be aware of that.”

Olin asserts that “reading can be resistance” in his exhibit. Some people in the camp try to create a “little free library”, she said, and hold frequent classes.

In addition to the murals, quotes from Palestinian authors are often graffitied on the street walls. A wall says “you have something in this world, so get up”, quoting Ghassan Kanifani.

“Whether or not we know what we have to do in the world, we always live knowing that there is something,” said an unidentified artist whom Olin interviewed in the camp regarding the importance of the murals. .

The Divinity School was founded in 1822.


Alex covers campus politics. She is a freshman at Trumbull College majoring in English.

Tracey L. Sweeney