Art Connects Cuisine and Culture at Dyafa

Reem Assil invites artist Chris Gazaleh to celebrate food and heritage on canvas at her restaurant Dyafa.


Reem Assil invited artist Chris Gazaleh to celebrate food and heritage in her restaurant Dyafa.

Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Though delicious and colorful Middle Eastern dishes compose Dyafa’s menu, the Middle Eastern restaurant’s interior lacked this character. Generic red bricks housed the restaurant that owner Reem Assil called her “space of home in California.” She enlisted the help of Bay Area artist Chris Gazaleh, whose work illustrating the struggles of Palestinians she has been a long-time admirer, to beautify her restaurant with his art.

Gazaleh delivered and unveiled this fall his latest piece of art on the Jack London Square restaurant’s east wall in the main dining area. The painting depicts an Arabic woman in detailed purple and red garments in front of a town surrounded by mountains, soil, and trees. A bright blue sky with a large orange sun hangs overhead.

This is not Gazaleh’s first foray into the East Bay art scene. He already did calligraphic work inside Dyafa and on the columns of Assil’s bakery, Reem’s California, in Fruitvale, the same bakery where a mural of Rasmeah Odeh revealed in 2017 sparked protests. In 2014, he also painted a part of the Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural in Uptown between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue on 26th Street.

“What’s really cool about Chris’ work is he does a lot of imagery and a lot of Arabic art,” Assil said. “There’s a lot of symbolism.”

Gazaleh’s piece for Dyafa epitomizes his distinct style, full of symbolism and employing bold colors, Arabic script, and stylized faces. Gazaleh said faces are a powerful method to express his political views, because “when people see the face of other people who they usually don’t see every day, it must strike them if they’re paying attention.” These figures exemplify the artist’s politics, as is the case with the heroine in another new piece, Humanity in the Key, which was recently unveiled in San Francisco off Highway 101 on Octavia and Market streets.

“I put it there in the middle of everything.” Gazaleh said. “It’s very visible. It’s front and center. I couldn’t get a better spot to paint.”

photo by lance yamamoto

Chris Gazaleh is recognized for his stylized faces, bold colors, and symbolism and is also an accomplished muralist. 

That piece illustrates a woman tearing down the Israeli West Bank. She holds in her right hand a key, which symbolizes Palestinians’ right of return to their homeland. She plucks with her left an orange from an orange tree, a fruit Palestinians are known for growing.

Assil said she is excited to have Gazaleh’s work in Dyafa, because people from many walks of life can connect over symbols like food. “Food hits the senses at a very basic level,” she said, “and then it’s a pathway to talk about the stories and history in a way that makes people open and vulnerable and understand the human impact of these really deep issues.”

In the same way that Assil uses the cuisines on Dyafa’s menu to “recreate these things that are lost in memory,” Gazaleh said he uses his art “to speak out.” The vibrant graffiti and hip-hop scenes in the Mission District, around which he spent much of his childhood, informs the vocal political tone of his work.

“That’s what gave me my voice to speak out,” Gazaleh said. “We have a place to represent ourselves.”

Born in San Francisco, he also spent some time growing up in Detroit. His roots, however, run deepest in San Francisco, where his mother grew up and his grandfather opened one of the Mission’s first Middle Eastern shops.

Though Gazaleh’s story begins in the Bay Area, his art connects globally with Palestinians, all of whom, Assil said, are “yearning for the same thing: to be rooted, to feel grounded, to feel connected to our purpose.”

“We need art on our side.” Gazaleh said. “It’s important.”

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