Mary McKone’s “Gaza: Precious lives, stolen dreams” exhibit at SPACE gallery in Portland also features a poem, written by her son, Rami Azzam: “day 192/ of watching those who look like me/ and sound like me/ lay the bodies of their murdered children/ who look like my own/ bathed, fed, well rested/ in dust and crimson/ on the floor/ as the world turns/ does their love now linger in the air?/ it may brush against your brow/ one day.” Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

Ceramicist Mary McKone has created a display in recognition and mourning for the more than 10,000 children killed in Gaza in the last seven months of the Israel-Hamas war.

McKone spent three decades living and working in the Middle East, 10 of those years in Palestine as a sixth grade art teacher. Living in Ramallah in the West Bank, she raised her children, Rami and Haneen, with her husband Fateh Azzam, a human rights consultant and researcher born as a stateless Palestinian.

Through the last seven months, McKone, her family and her former students with whom she keeps in touch have grappled with the scale of death and destruction in Gaza, and what it means for the lives and futures of Palestinians.

The window display faces Congress Street. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

“The death of the children has really impacted me,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see so many dreams that parents have for their kids and kids have for themselves just be wiped out like that.”

She wanted to find a way to make people feel the impact of that many lives lost. The small white figurines in her “Gaza: Precious lives, stolen dreams” in the window of SPACE on Congress Street are a visual representation of each life lost. She said she was inspired largely by the work of Ai Weiwei, a Chinese contemporary artist who has created similar visual displays, like arranging 9,000 children’s backpacks to represent children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

“We hear numbers all the time, but what do they mean? What do they look like? We get so deadened to that,” McKone said.


When she began her project, 5,000 children had been identified in Gaza. Currently, 7,797 have been identified, and still more remain unidentifiable, without living family to identify their bodies or trapped and buried under rubble. UNICEF and Save the Children estimate the total number of children killed to date at about 13,000.

McKone said that facing the visual of what that number looked like was overwhelming. “I couldn’t believe how many pieces there were,” she said.

She soon realized this was a large undertaking that she couldn’t do alone and called in friends and community members to help make the figurines. A group of artists at Handful Studios in Portland jumped in to help. Currently, 5,000 figurines are displayed in the window, and she plans to continue until reaching 10,000 by the end of the exhibition.

“I hope that people will be hit by the actual volume of children killed,” she said. “I hope they will be more willing to demand a ceasefire and look at what the U.S. government is doing” by funding the war, she said.

“How can you justify killing this many children? It’s targeting the future for Palestinians,” she said. “These are things I want people to stop and think about.”

McKone said her former student, Fala Urfali, helped her brainstorm ways to curate the space and portray the message affectively. “She really helped me think through texture, height and message, and I really appreciated that.”


Cinderblocks are arranged in the display to represent buildings that have collapsed and the rubble that many families are sorting through to find their loved ones. “I was also hoping with this installation to show the destruction. How do you deal with those psychological impacts?”

McKone has a studio in Georgetown. In addition to her sculpture work, she also makes pottery. She currently has a pottery series aimed at raising awareness of the growing list of endangered and threatened species in Maine. She also has an exhibition currently at the Chocolate Church in Bath about environmental issues that influence food.

McKone said she enjoys the act of working and creating with her hands. “Clay is very immediate. You get an idea and you can keep moving with it, or you can crush it up and start again,” she said.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ current report estimates that around 34,900 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October. Additionally, around 500 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank. During the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, 1,139 Israelis were confirmed killed, the report says.

“We need to keep this front and center before we lose another 30,000 people,” said McKone. “Every parent wants the same things for their child. They want their safety, to provide a nice home, they want an education and they want to feed them.”

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