Gaza photographer hopes digital art boom can help raise aid money

1 month ago 113

By Sebastian Usher
BBC Arab affairs editor

image copyrightShaban El Sousi

image captionShaban El Sousi photographed Celine as she sat in the ruins of a tower block in Gaza City

A photographer in Gaza has put a digital picture from the recent conflict between Palestinian militants and Israel up for auction at a starting price of $1m (£720,000) in an innovative, if highly speculative, effort to raise much-needed aid money for children in the territory.

"I took some photos of Celine - a two-year-old girl - on the first day of Eid al-Fitr during the conflict in Gaza in May," says Shaban El Sousi. "I was surprised that within hours the photo went viral and received attention across the world."

Shaban is a young Gazan who works as a freelance photographer. He loves to capture what he calls the bittersweet moments of his home, Gaza City.

The photo of Celine holding a doll in the ruins of the tower block that was brought down by Israeli air strikes next to her family home - which was also hit - clearly struck a chord.

Arab celebrities like the Lebanese pop superstar Haifa Wehbe and the Egyptian actress Yasmin Abdulaziz shared it. International news organisations picked up on the image, too.

"That night was full of scenes of collapsing buildings, burning cars, with the screams of children and their mothers - and many injuries," Shaban recalls.

He says that he took the photo in order to renew a sense of hope for the future.

Now, his aim is to turn that into something more concrete - not only for himself and Celine, but also for aid agencies in Gaza.

Shaban says that half of any proceeds from the auction of a non-fungible token (NFT) of the image - essentially a digital asset that gives the buyer ownership through its unique code - will go to Unicef and the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. The rest will be shared between himself and Celine's family.

Both organisations have expressed their support for the auction, saying that such funds are desperately needed.

Unicef told the BBC that its current target is to raise $50m (£36m). Many weeks after the conflict, the needs of children in Gaza remain as critical as ever, it says.

But there must be a question mark over how realistic the chances are of achieving the auction goal of one million dollar's worth of cryptocurrency, however much of an impact the original photo made on social media.

media captionThe precarious life of a Gaza fisherman

There's no doubt that the NFT market is growing, especially among younger collectors who have grown up in the digital world.

An expert in the field, Jason Bailey, who founded the Artnome website, says that he is no longer surprised when NFTs sell for $1m or more.

"We should probably start thinking about the NFT format as being like work in canvas or in stone - in that there is nothing about being an NFT that would drive the price up or down. It will increasingly only be the artwork combined with the reputation of the artist that matters."

Over-ambitious or not, Shaban says that back in May he and his family and friends could have lost their lives. But now, through an image that can rise above the violence and pain, he hopes they are on their way to turning things around and with any luck immortalising just one of the stories from Gaza.

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