As news of destruction and attacks in Palestine fills our newsfeeds and screens, we think “What can be done?!”. Didn’t the world say “Never Again” after Srebrenica, after Rwanda? But here we are watching asymmetric wars being played out as if human life and those of Palestinians no longer matters, as if it never mattered. As if we can excuse actions of the powerful as “self-defense” and in its name bomb, and attack and strike over and over again. Where children slumbering in their rooms, clutching dreams, become another number in the “rising death toll“.
In the wake of yet another somber reminder that the world we live in needs more so much more love, SISTERHOOD presents a feature of award winning Palestinian artist and actor Dana Dajani. Dana’s poem “Love Letters to Palestine” truly warmed our hearts and is a poignant reminder of the power of art, storytelling and poetry in advocating for love, for justice, for peace.
Could you tell us about you and your work?
I am an actor and a writer dedicated to creative story telling which highlights the resilience of the human spirit! Whether through theatre, film, poetry, or literature, I strive to tell stories that illuminate the common bonds shared across humanity, to make clear how these bonds outweigh our perceived differences.
What inspires your poetry?
Many things inspire my poetry—sometimes just a beautiful day, an amazing conversation, the love of being alive. Other times I write ‘on assignment’ and decide that there is a certain issue I want to tackle. Those poems sometimes take weeks to craft!
Where does art meet activism for you? And how important is art in activism on critical issues?
I once heard a quote, “Art without politics is just decoration.” I think as artists, we are blessed with the opportunity to hold a mirror to society and reflect on issues that need immediate attention and action. I think art is at its most powerful when making a statement about the world -either the inner world, or the material world.
Although the West boasts about “Democracy”, I find that not many people bother to get involved in politics- it’s so messy, it’s so boring and stagnant. But by attaching narratives to certain causes, art makes issues more accessible. In doing so, the message spreads and more people become aware of the issue, and also build an emotional attachment and investment to that issue. Then activism naturally follows.
Please tell us the story behind your latest poem “Love Letters from Palestine”?
“Love Letters from Palestine” was one of those poems written “on assignment” as I mentioned earlier. In 2012, I was asked to perform at a fundraiser for Palestine, but didn’t have anything recent or relevant so I sat down to write a new piece about Falastin. However, I had not visited since 1996, and felt I couldn’t write from my own perspective. As an actress, I created a character, a hajje (or old woman) called ‘Nakbe’, and the words just started to flow from her perspective.
It took me two weeks to complete the poem just in time to perform at the fundraiser. During sound-check of the event, the organizers politely told me that I could not perform the poem, as they felt it was too “aggressive”. I ended up performing an old piece about my grandfather, and totally buried the poem. I thought of it as a failed experiment. Until I returned to Palestine in 2013.
I was eager to film something during my trip to Falastin last year with a friend of mine who makes documentary films. I showed her the poem and we decided to film it guerilla-style around the Apartheid wall in Bethlehem. She was extremely supportive and encouraged me to perform the poem at every opportunity, she really made believe in it again after so long! Due to work and travel, a year passed before I was able to edit the footage we shot, but the film of the poem is finally out! Of course, a recording of me performing the poem came out before the film was released, and my simple spoken word performance went viral. I hope as many people have the opportunity to see the film of the poem as well!
What have you been working on lately and what can we look forward to?
I have three major goals for 2014/2015:
One is to publish a book of my poetry.
The second is to release an album with my band, Floetics. Floetics is an experimental riff on rhythm and rhyme- a combination of poetry, song, and melody. We have been collaborating for over two years and have a lot of original songs together.. so I think its time for an album!
Lastly, I am working on writing a piece of poetic theatre about the relationship and correspondences between May Ziyade and Khalil Gibran.
What would be a dream project for you?
I would love to work on a feature film with someone like Nadine Labaki, or, on the total opposite end of the spectrum, Quentin Tarantino! I would also love to tour a production in the Hakawati style of story telling. Perhaps a contemporary poetic twist on some the classic Arabic hikayas, or stories!
Find Dana on the interwebs: