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The creation of the academy in Ramallah

THE PALESTINE ANNEX / In the occupied West Bank, art became a form of knowledge based on research and free critical thinking. One of the founders of the art academy in Ramallah, tells here what happened – supported by Norway.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

I have written about International Academy of Art – Palestine # (IAAP) at the request of editor Truls Lie.

I had to dig up memories from many years ago and go back to some documents, letters, meeting minutes, photos and even emails. To further refresh my memory, I contacted some of the artists and friends who participated in this unique and special project. Then we could exchange memories and events, not only to arrange them, but also to save them from oblivion. Especially since many of these events and stories were never recorded or recorded! Therefore, I have chosen a simple method to retell the story. My goal has been to avoid, as far as possible, what is already known and published about the academy's history, and instead examine the text and meanings hidden between the lines.

Building bridges

The experience with the academy in Palestine was, along with many others, an important addition and a step forward for the Palestinian art scene and for art history. This also represented a role model that shows what kind of institution artists themselves aspired to. An institute that is able to merge the needs of art with the practice of contemporary art in a situation characterized by a lack of institutions. And that in a special time where the state of Palestine is going through an occupation.

The questions revolved around how and when? What kind of academy do we want?

The IAAP has been a new bridge builder and connected art practice in Palestine to the international art scene. This happened in the midst of an almost complete absence of all the infrastructure art needs, such as museums, colleges, galleries and markets. This opened up a further development of art – which could also be experienced by others. Despite the extraordinary circumstances the Palestinians lived and still live under, this artistic practice was always present and testified to something essential, which was otherwise opposed, monitored and limited in its possibilities.

A group of artists

The idea of ​​establishing an art academy in Palestine was conceived in 2003. During the Israeli invasion of the West Bank, Ramallah was subject to a strict curfew in which the city's streets and institutions were subjected to repeated attacks, destruction and siege. At that time, friends held gatherings in secret to discuss life and to take care of each other – especially when the curfews were lifted for a few hours so people could buy some groceries.

What happened was that we, a group of artists, met a couple of times in Nablus St., especially at the headquarters of The Palestinian Association of Artists and I remember that the association was led by Nabil Anani and that Tayseer Barakat, Suleiman Mansour, Kareem Dabbah, Samir Salameh and Dina Ghazal were present. We thought about possible activities and exhibitions to protest the situation.

For example, an exhibition of posters and photographs was once put up on the walls of one of the destroyed security headquarters. Countless ideas were taken up and discussed to fill the need to come up with a kind of response, while tanks rolled around the center and soldiers occupied the roofs of many buildings, such as the Ministry of Culture and the Amwaj Radio building. The period was marked by frustration and a sense of great loss. In a city that was abused, we did not know what to do: not because the attacks were not over yet, nor because we could barely stay together – but because of the many different ideas and visions that could not be realized.

From then on, we started playing with the idea of ​​an international art exhibition in a besieged city, to establish a museum of the remnants of the war, and other ideas, such as working with the children in their own neighborhoods to ease the pressure.

Prohibition, and Birzeit University

In a meeting of the Ministry of Education's Education Council, where we met as artists to discuss the curriculum for art education in schools and art faculties in Palestine, artist Suleiman Mansour put forward the idea of ​​establishing an art academy. The meeting was chaired by Gabi Baramki, who was then Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Education.

Suleiman mentioned the many discussions he had had with former Minister of Education Munther Salah, about founding an independent art academy in Palestine, and how it was important to find alternative ways to realize this idea. Especially since the Israeli occupation authorities prevented and banned the establishment of two types of education faculty in Palestine – agriculture and the arts. And after the Oslo agreement, the challenge was to get sufficient support and financing to establish such.

The association's leader, Nabil Anani, also pointed out the efforts made in the 80s, especially with Birzeit University and Baramki who were their vice president at the time. He said that a university like Birzeit – despite having the funding in order, was not able to establish an art academy – because at that time they had not been able to be granted an authorization. Anani and others put the idea of ​​an academy on ice while waiting for the right time.

Henrik Placht

The idea was later revived in a meeting between us and a gathering of Norwegian artists and solidarity activists at the association's headquarters, where Dr. Musleh Kanaaneh was present and opened the meeting.

The delegation consisted of three Norwegian artists, among them Henrik Placht, who expressed a clear and precise idea about the academy, after our many discussions about the situation, and about artists and the art scene in Palestine. The idea of ​​establishing a museum or declaring the city an open-air museum was soon completely overshadowed by the idea of ​​education! The idea seemed like a distant dream, but no one protested – not even those who were not very excited about it. The meeting ended with us agreeing to have more meetings, and that was what happened. Ideas began to emerge and develop in the minds of Palestinian and Norwegian artists.

Henrik, the most enthusiastic member of the Norwegian group, attended most of the meetings with Suleiman Mansour, Tayseer Barakat, Dr. Musleh Kanaaneh and me, Khaled Hourani. We started discussing the curriculum and teaching methods and the excitement increased after we discussed the idea of ​​the logo and the name. The first suggestion for a name was Ramallah Academy for Arts with its own logo designed by one of the Norwegian artists. It was later replaced by the International Academy of Arts – Palestine.

Still ideas and dreams

After the Norwegian group went home, we constantly discussed ideas and dreams. The questions revolved around how and when? What kind of academy do we want? These meetings were crucial, because here everyone showed great enthusiasm and a sincere desire to work and research and discuss. Henrik's visits were frequent and he occasionally came alone and other times with other artists such as Michael Donald and Lars Ramberg.

Ramberg made a film about the visit, Ten Days in Ramallah, which was broadcast on Norwegian TV. In addition to the visit itself, the film covered the first workshop held at the association's office with the participation of selected students under the project name International Academy of Art. We received support from the Norwegian representative to hold a workshop in Ramallah and another in Gaza. We also held a conference on art and higher education in Palestine at the Rocky Hotel in Al-Masyoun.

The conference was visited by official representatives from the Oslo Academy of the Arts (KHIO) for the first time. These workshops served as a cornerstone for the academy project, afterwards we were able to build on the idea and promote it further through research and experimentation.

The Israeli occupation authorities banned the establishment of an education faculty for art in Palestine.

In addition to the successful workshops that were followed by two exhibitions, one in Al-Hallaj Kunsthall in Ramallah, and the other in Gaza City in the Ministry of Culture's forum, we held a number of meetings with the Minister of Culture, author Yehya Yakhlof, who strongly supported the idea of the academy. Also with a number of cultural institutions such as: Riwaq Center, Khalil Al-Sakakini Center, Al-Qattan Foundation and Ashtar Theater. The discussions were mainly about whether we had the capacity, as the demand was great. In addition to the authorities, we also met other artists, writers, playwrights, musicians and filmmakers. Some of these joined the founders, among them the artists Said Murad and Hayyan Al-Jubeh. We then submitted an application to register an NGO on behalf of the Palestinian Association for Contemporary Art with the academy as its central project.

The visit to Norway and beyond

After this, the ideas of the academy's founding and a partnership with KHIO crystallized. We, Suleiman Mansour, Mohammed Odeh, Khaled Hourani and Reem Fadda, who worked as director of the Palestinian Association for Contemporary Art, visited Norway and had several meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to explain the idea and its significance. We also met the culture committee in the Storting and the director and dean of the Norwegian Academy of Fine Arts. Finally, we signed a memorandum confirming the agreement with the academy in Oslo. We received a positive response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the funding. And was surprised by the enormous coverage the visit received from the Norwegian press.

Hourani and Placht in the principal's office (excerpt from unpublished film interview). Photo Trils Lie

After this, Henrik started working as a project manager at KHIO. At the same time, we all volunteered in Palestine: we began to look for premises, make plans and programs, adapt the curriculum until we finally rented the house to the historian Aref Al-Aref. This was first renovated and adapted to make room for the academy's project. At the same time, job offers were announced, and furniture and equipment were purchased. Maria Khouri was appointed director of the academy, and I, Khaled Hourani, artistic director. Reem Fadda became an academic supervisor who played an important role in shaping the academy's identity and teaching methodology. In the meantime, many names joined the project and others thanked for it.


Together with the association's administration and the University of Oslo, the first employees at the academy formed a group that would work with such things as laws and regulations, curriculum, curricula, teachers, vision and goals. The academy succeeded in building a broad network of local and international relations – which made it possible to fully implement various programs in a relatively short time.

Pictures of student work: from the academy's office. Photo: Truls Lie

Following the announcement in 2007, 12 students were admitted to the modern visual arts program – the first of its kind in Palestine. The first semester of 2007 then started in the academy building, with classrooms, student studios, a computer lab, a library, studio practice, lectures, courses and even a school bell!

The artists' dream came true with the help of a skilled pedagogical art institute and a place where dialogue between artists from different generations and nationalities could take hold. This is how a bridge was created that connects Palestine with the outside world – art became a form of knowledge based on research and free critical thinking.

The story itself, a hub

I have told the events here as a story with names and dates not to be forgotten, although I may not remember all the names. This is an open text, open to edits and additions – simply because the history of the academy can be read from different angles with different narrators.

The story of the academy is a mixture of ideas, dreams and intentions. The academy is a child that carries in it the qualities of all those who helped to bring it into the world. It can be seen in different ways by the founders and their partners, but it was created by different ideas merging. The best of the ideas were created through discussion, communication and participation.

While the media dehumanizes the war, the artists give the suffering a
human face.

We often disagreed – about the color of the railing or the decorations, the color of the logo or the curriculum since each of us has our own visualization of the academy. But we discussed every detail anyway! Sometimes understanding, and other times hectic. Regardless: this idea of ​​an academy would not have been realized if it had not been for the love and acceptance this beautiful child received – on which no one left or claimed a monopoly.

Over the years, the academy became a hub that offered art and artists from both Palestine and abroad. It attracted local and international attention, as a place for dialogue, teaching, learning and creativity.

Pictures of student work: from the academy's office. Photo: Truls Lie

The philosophy and vision behind the academy's work emphasized openness, the strengthening of national culture and issues of identity, freedom, gender, politics and critical thinking. We achieved this with the help of a wide range of lecturers and professors. The teaching program viewed the city and the country as a workplace, instead of limiting itself to the academy's physical domain. The academy also used its broad circle of contacts and partnerships to exchange knowledge and expertise with similar academic institutes as it has regular exchanges for students and teachers.

The academy has taken part in several partnerships and projects that gave students practical experiences in addition to theory. We also received students from different regions of Palestine and the world through our exchange program! Several cohorts have graduated so far – I still remember occasional cries of joy and excitement from the students from those years.

Various projects

The various art projects at the academy gained a solid reputation locally and internationally, and formed a basis for new connections and roads. They not only served as educational tools, but strengthened the local artistic culture.

Finally, I mention a few different projects and workshops where the Academy's students, staff, artists and local communities got involved: Excursions to various Palestinian cities, monuments and publications, Picasso in Palestine, Jerusalem Milestone, Jericho Under the Sea, Qalandia International Festival, Disarming Design From Palestine, Subjective Atlas of Palestine and many other exhibitions and festivals both in Palestine and internationally.

With great and generous support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and many other local and international founders, the academy has been able to continue and flourish, always in harmony with society's needs and modern teaching methods.

Khaled Hourani, artist designer and critic, lives and works in Ramallah. He worked as artistic director 2007–2010 and as director of the International Academy of Art Palestine from 2010–2013. Previously, he worked as director of the art department of the Palestinian Ministry of Culture (2004-06). Hourani has participated in many local and international exhibitions.

Palestinian delegation visiting Norway


The first litter for undergraduate education will be taken in the fall of 2007.

Officially run as an Arab subdivision of the Oslo Academy of the Arts (KHIO) until the school gets its own approval by the Palestinian Authority.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has supported the start-up with NOK XNUMX million. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also participated in the academic part of the project.

Palestinian students are already studying at KHIO as part of the project.

(Henrick Placht in the middle, from 2007)

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