Sunday, February 8, 2009

Olympia Rafah Sister City Mural Project Progresses

Above: Olympia Rafah Sister City Mural Project's olive tree in Olympia.
Photos by Janine Gates

The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice is excited to complete phase one of its olive tree mural project in downtown Olympia and is now planning the next phase to place ceramic leaves onto the tree.

The foundation hopes to raise $20,000 to cover materials, stipends and to host two Palestinian artists from Rafah, which is in the Gaza Strip where Olympian Rachel Corrie was killed five years ago.

The Olympia mural wall space, owned and donated to the foundation by the Brotherhood Tavern and Trinacria Restaurant, is on the north wall of the Labor Temple on the corner of State and Capitol streets. The mural is scheduled to be complete by this summer. Wording to name and explain the project used to be painted on the wall, however, that had to be painted over because the size and amount of wording was found to be in violation of Olympia signage regulations. The mural is about 3,000 square feet on a 4,000 square foot brick wall.

Above: Cindy Corrie greets volunteers and olive leaf artists at Artwalk in April 2008.

About 800 of the 1000 ceramic leaves created by local ceramic artist Marion Pollman have been painted. The leaves are decorated by community members at local events such as Artswalk. The foundation is scheduled to be at Artswalk this year as well. Larger ceramic and all-weather fabric leaves will soon be made and will be decorated through a juried art process. "When completed, this will be the largest mural in the world for Palestinian resistance," said Evan Welkin, a Rachel Corrie Foundation member, who recently visited the West Bank and Israel.

Last Friday, the foundation brought psychologist and American Jewish public artist Dr. Susan Greene of San Francisco's Break the Silence Mural and Arts Program, to speak to the Olympia community about using public art to promote social change.

Dr. Greene has traveled and painted murals throughout the Middle East for 20 years. In the Middle East, murals are a common form of expression and resistance to honor fallen loved ones, martyrs, struggles, or village life.

In 2004, Dr. Greene was invited to the West Bank to paint a mural on the Separation Wall in the West Bank. The 26 foot, more than 400 mile long concrete wall is being built by the Israeli government and often encroaches well inside the internationally recognized Green Line demarking the Israeli-Palestinian border granted by the United Nations in 1948.

There, Dr. Greene met the Aamer family, whose home and land is now squeezed between the wall and a new Jewish settlement. They are isolated, physically and visually, from their village because of the wall. The Aamer family has refused to sell their home, which is frequently vandalized by the Jewish settlers. Dr. Greene's mural, painted with the children of the family, now features a light blue background with a large yellow-orange firebird soaring toward the top of the wall, flowers, and lush scenes, for the family to look at from their home's front door. Dr. Greene said that she was told, prior to the mural being painted, that the children were depressed, but after the mural was painted, the children started to play outside again. The Israeli government did not allow her to continue with the mural because it was "provocative" and kicked her out.

About the Olympia Rafah Sister City Mural Project, Evan Welkin, who also gave a slideshow of his trip, said, "This is a celebration, a very public connection (to the Palestinian people) and something the community can rally around."

For more information, contact the Rachel Corrie Foundation at or