You’ve seen hundreds of T-shirts before, but these are different. For one unorthodox Palestinian artist, they are envoys that can carry a message of peace to places he can’t reach, transcending all manner of barriers from separation walls to language.
“Through this shirt, I could reach places like Haifa, Al-Quds, and Khalil,” explains Mujahed Khallaf, a journalist who studied political science before turning to an unexpected art form. “It’s important,” he adds, “for me to send my artistic letter through this shirt,”—his letter to the world, against division and violence.
The project was inspired by accident, when Khallaf spilled a few drops of chlorine on a T-shirt. Rather than throw it away, he began playing with the bleaching process, researching and experimenting with the various effects he could create.
But the more profound moment of recognition was when he discovered that chlorine had been used—in gas form—to commit several massacres in both world wars. The element’s lethal history made him determined to use it as an unconventional instrument of peace—in the form of wearable art.
Though he now spends most of his time envisioning and executing T-shirt designs, the Ramallah-based artist works hard in other genres too, teaching the art of mosaic to disadvantaged camp residents as a way of reviving the neglected tradition. He has also embarked on another artistic project opposing the separation wall and all attempts to beautify it—since by doing so, he argues, they “assist in normalizing the people with the daily idea of the wall.”
If something serves isolation and silence, he says, “you cannot make it beautiful.” Instead, by making art “that shows the world as it is, and doesn’t give up on reality,” Khallaf is already proving how exquisite it is to put a once-lethal element in the service of peaceful human connection.