Photo by Polly Nash
Art and artistsCulture

Local cartoonist Tim Sanders’ illustrations of Palestine

‘To exist is to resist’: new art exhibition depicting the everyday occurrences and ordinary joys of life in occupied Palestine.

Illustrator and cartoonist Tim Sanders is a self-proclaimed ‘sketchbook obsessive’ who rarely steps foot outside his house in Leytonstone without a notepad underarm.

From tired commuters riding the district line to Herbert’s fruit and vegetable stall in Globe Town, his sketches are the work of minutes and capture the world as it moves around him. 

His new exhibition, Fragments of Palestine, displays Sanders’ in situ sketches from multiple visits to the West Bank, one of which he made just weeks before the October 7 attacks and the ensuing Israel-Hamas war. 

The sketches depict snapshots of daily life in occupied Palestine: parents taking their children to school, people going to the supermarket, and relatives sharing a moment of laughter.

Though Sanders drew the pictures in a period of ‘normality,’ he points out that life in the West Bank can never be considered ‘normal’ by those who haven’t experienced occupation. 

Former political cartoonist for The Independent, Sanders has made a career out of satirical sketches and political quips. 

But his pictures of Palestine are not strewn with slogans or covered in caricatures. They are simply sketches of moments in time, recording ‘all the stuff that everybody does always.’ 

Drawn in black ink and later brought alive with watercolours, Sanders’ sketches have been made into larger A4 prints for the exhibition in St. Barnabas Church in Bow.

Sanders says: ‘I want people to see human beings in these pictures. So you don’t look at Palestinians as abstractions, whether they be victims or terrorists or whatever they are presented as in the media, but just as people going about their daily lives.’ 

In his daily life, you might find Sanders cycling from his home in Leytonstone to his studio in St. Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green. During lockdown, he passed the time by playing his soprano saxophone in the Museum Gardens just across the road. 

In the 80s, Sanders lived in Hackney when warehouses and affordable art studios were abundant, and the area was purportedly home to the highest proportion of artists in all of Europe. 

Studying illustration at the old Harrow College of Art, he says: ‘Everyone else was getting into conceptual stuff then but I was very old-fashioned with my rigorous drawing education.’ 

Sanders worked as The Independent’s political cartoonist for 15 years and has freelanced for publications from The Guardian to The Mail. Though he still produces illustrations and cartoons, he says the freelance market has waned in recent years. 

A consequence of Sanders’ trade is to mark the passing of time using landmarks in the British political calendar. By this metric, he moved to Tower Hamlets around the time Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister, living in Stepney Green and subsequently Globe Road opposite The Camel pub

Like many, he has moved with the ebbs and flows of the property market, which has determined the availability of artists’ homes and studios and shaped the East End’s creative community

Meeting Sanders in Awen Cafe on Roman Road, he says: ‘It’s funny the East End: it’s both a different place and the same place to when I first came here.’

He hopes the exhibition will connect with communities across the East End, which is well-known for its activist spirit and for its rich history of migration from Jewish and Muslim communities. 

‘The impact of art is a big thing about cartoonists and satirists,’ Sanders muses: ‘and I don’t think you can ever say that a cartoon changed the world. But I suppose it’s a contribution to the struggle for a fairer society. 

‘Palestinians say: tell the world about us, so that’s what I’m trying to do.’ 

All money raised from the exhibition will be donated to the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. Book tickets and find further details about Fragments of Palestine here

If you enjoyed reading this piece, find our interview with East End artist Jock McFadyen

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