Written by Arwa Aburawa and illustrated by Sofia Niazi, Intifada Milk is a self-published printed issue that was produced for a reading library entitled “Visions of The Future”. It tells the story of a group of Palestinians living in Beit Sahour who smuggled 18 cows to produce their own milk during the first intifada. This act of resistance also inspired other artistic projects such as a pixelated cow sculpture. Along with other printed radical material curated by One of My Kind (OOMK), an independent publication focusing on women, art and activism, Intifada Milk was displayed at the Islamic Human Rights Commission gallery in London from february till april. Part of the reading room, including artworks from Intifada Milk, will be moving to Rich Mix’s Cafe Gallery as part of an exhibition called DIY Justice which will run from May 24 till June 12. Mashallah News asked a couple of questions to Sofia Niazi and Arwa Aburawa.
You installed a reading library for the Islamic Human Rights Commission which explored visions of the future with DIY printed material. What kind of magazines did you display?
Sofia: We displayed a number of zines which had been produced and submitted in response to the exhibition title, the Table of Zines was home to personal journeys, refashioned tabloids and methods of decolonial resistance – among many other visions of the future. We also selected a number of existing publications produced by individuals and groups who we felt were in the process of discovering, dismantling and re-building the present and had chosen to use independent printing methods to achieve their visions. Books specially made for the reading room included Intifada Milk by Arwa Aburawa, Books of the Future by Hudda Khaireh, No Union by Rose Nordin and A Dream to Change the World by Heiba Lamara. Other titles included This be the Answer by Talha Ahsan, STRIKE! Magazine, Shape and Situate edited by Melanie Madisson, The Occupied Times and Black Women Matter by Underground Sketchbook. The OOMK Visions of the Future Reading Room would not have been complete without OOMK so issues one, two and three of our zine, which focuses on women, art and activism, were also on display.
Why did you choose this specific story to represent the broader Palestinian struggle?
Arwa: Because it was so strange and funny, and sad and unbelievable and just so important. Yes, the story is about a small town near Bethlehem buying 18 cows but it actually tells us something so universal about what it takes to build a utopia and how the powers that be – sometimes on opposite sides of the political spectrum – genuinely fear independence and self-sufficient communities more than anything else. They fear that we won’t need them or their rhetoric if we learn how to feed, clothe and educate ourselves. And I guess it reminds us that the simplest and most practical of things – like being able to supply your own milk – can be powerful. It can even be feared by one of the most powerful armies in the world.
Looking back, the story that I ended up writing – with Sofia encouragement and support – was also a personal reflection of the things I care about. A child of two Palestinian parents, my vision of utopia is stuck on Palestine. Maybe it’s because of the stories I heard growing up or the fact that I was always hearing ‘one day, we will return there’. I’m not sure – but it felt natural that Palestine would be where it would start. Second of all, through environmental campaigning I came to the slow realization that the people in power are usually incredibly incompetent, short-sighted and will never be able to save us. We have to do that ourselves. But they fear that most of all because it means divesting them of all their power. The story is small and specific but it’s actually a really powerful and universal one.
How did you work on the text and the visuals?
Arwa: Writing the text was a genuine collaboration with lots of people. I was inspired by a quote that a friend shared with me about not being able to govern independent people (thanks Marc Hudson), a documentary that a colleague sent my way ’18 cows’ (thanks Bilal) and also Sofia Niazi who convinced me to just tell a single story encompassing lots of things rather than looking at lots of stories. There were a couple of things that I wanted visually like the milk carton cover but actually, Sofia and I sat down in OOMK’s studio with Heiba Lamara who was hilarious and helped us to come up with ideas for the images. Once that was all decided, Sofia went away and worked her magic!
As we are speaking about visions of the future, do you have in mind more recent examples that can give us hope in a better future?
Arwa: There are people all across the world learning to be independent by working with their communities and empowering themselves through practical action. They may seem small and insignificant but they definitely add up. Things like rebel architects in Spain taking over abandoned buildings to turn them into vibrant cultural centres, community cafes helping feed those in need with food that would otherwise be dumped. I recently helped out on a short film about the first four female park rangers in Afghanistan who these amazing women are helping to build more sustainable lives for their communities.