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The Frida of our time: A tribute to Gazan artist Ayah Abdulrahman Open in fullscreen

Farzana Khan

The Frida of our time: A tribute to Gazan artist Ayah Abdulrahman

Ayah was a great artist, who lost her battle to cancer

Date of publication: 20 November, 2019

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Ayah was a phenomenal Palestinian artist, who sadly lost her battle to cancer. Her legacy will live on through her artwork.
You've heard of the likes of such big names of female artists in the industry such as Yayeri Kasuma, Mary Cassatt and of course Frida Kahlo, but have you heard of the great and inspiring artist Ayah Abdulrahman? Unless you're familiar with the Palestinian art scene you probably wouldn't have either. 

Ayah is one of the great artists the world has never heard of and sadly is not going to as this July Ayah passed away due to her battle with cancer and as a result of life under occupation and the strangling restrictions imposed due to the decade long siege of Gaza.

All of these factors play a role in the dilapidation of Ayah's health in many ways. Due to the Israeli occupation and the siege on Gaza this meant medical equipment as well as the treatment for cancer is restricted from entering Gaza. Yet at the same time, cancer patients rarely get to leave Gaza for treatment due to the rigorous and abhorrent travel restrictions at the borders from both Egypt and Israel.

Ayah was battling cancer for over ten years yet despite having this crippling disease, she still shone brightly in everything that she did, and she did a lot with the time that she had.

Ayah did many things for her community, among them was being a spokesperson for Gaza cancer patients and being a beacon of hope to many people not just in Palestine but also internationally. She supported and gave hope to cancer patients, as well as her friends.

Ayah's will, her faith and her positive outlook on life, despite all the hardships she was going through, kept her strong and this is what helped her as later she managed to kick cancer into remission, although only for a short period in time.

Ayah also participated and spoke at Tedx. She's done numerous press interviews and features; as well as participating in countless exhibitions. These exhibitions were held in Gaza as getting out of Gaza had proved very difficult for Ayah.

On July 10 2019 a remembrance of Ayah was held in Gaza

Her travel permits for her cancer treatment outside of Gaza were refused several times meaning it was highly unlikely she would be granted access in order to have an exhibition.

Yet, at the same time, the restrictions due to the 12 year siege imposed on Gaza meant that the correct medical equipment as well as drugs were not allowed into Gaza. Therefore resulting in many patients suffering with this terrible disease of cancer, then having to suffer even more due to the correct care not being able to be administered due to the siege.

As a result, breast cancer is the highest cause of cancer deaths among Palestinian women, with estimates of five-year survival rates as low as 40 percent in some areas, compared to 81 percent in the UK and 86 percent in Israel.

Earlier this year the Palestinian Ministry of Health had sighted that the number of cancer patients in the Gaza Strip has risen to 8,515, including 608 children.

There was a 58 percent deficit in the drugs needed to treat cancer and blood disease patients in the Gaza Strip in 2018. These included 65 medicines which are vital in treating Cancer.

Some 4,705 women are among the cancer patients in the Strip, making up 55.3 percent of the total number of cases, as the figures show. Ayah was once amongst these statistics, but like each person suffering from cancer she was more than a statistic, she was a true act of defiance in itself.

Ayah found solace in not only her faith but also in nature and would often intertwine it into her beautiful paintings with the reoccurring themes of the sea and flowers.

Art was Ayah's outlet and just like Frida Kahlo even when Ayah was bedridden in her final days, she still painted. Ayah is the modern Frida Kahlo of our time.

Ayah would paint beautiful paintings of historical ruins in faraway places. When I once asked her where she had visited these places she told me that she had googled them and composed them into her paintings.

Ayah never got to visit these beautiful places she had painted. Ayah didn’t get to travel out of Gaza until it was too late and the cancer had resurfaced its ugly head again. It was only until September 2017 that Ayah's permit to travel out of Gaza to Cyprus was granted, so she could receive the cancer treatment that was much needed.

The art scene in Gaza was shocked when the sad news of Ayah's passing had circulated on July 2 2019. On July 10 2019 a remembrance of Ayah was held in Gaza in which fellow artists and friends gathered to appreciate her life's works and to console one another on the loss of a great person and friend. She was much loved by all who knew her.

A fellow artist and friend of Ayah's, Adam Shehada, who attended the memorial service quoted, "Ayah had a very distinguished presence every where she goes, during exhibitions I would think all the city knew her. She would spend time with all her friends and laugh and sing for them, she had a beautiful voice full of hope and strength. She had nothing to say to young local artists but words of encouragement and support. All artists in Gaza miss her presence."

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