art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Remembering Mustafa al-Hallaj: The Master of Palestinian Art.

Mustafa al-Hallaj (1938-2003) was a Palestinian artist, a pioneer of Arab contemporary art, and a true icon when it comes to graphic arts in general. After the 1948 war, Hallaj’s family moved to Damascus, and he spent most of his life in between Syria and Lebanon. He lost 25,000 of his prints in Israeli attacks on Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon war but managed to save the wood and masonry cuts he used to make them. In 2003, Al-Hallaj successfully rescued his famous work Self-portrait as Man, God, the Devil  from an electrical fire in his home studio, but died after running in to save other works. He was buried in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

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Tex Kerschen describes Self-Portrait as Man, God, the Devil as a master work of fantastic and folkloric imagery:

“Mustafa Al Hallaj’s masonite-cut print Self-portrait as Man, God, the Devil is a fable in which he cast himself as man, god and devil, released from the boundaries of political regimes. It is a master work, a continuum of fantastic and folkloric imagery that spans ancient and modern times. He juxtaposes a vast and often idiosyncratic menagerie of symbols —bulls, camel men, birds, lizard-like creatures and fish, with fantastic landscapes and episodes of ancient and modern Palestinian life. The animal hybrids of Hallaj are remniscient of Hieronymous Bosch. It reads cinematically, frame by frame, and is over 100 yards long. It is intricate, outlandish, and epic, full of figures from ancient mythology– bulls, birds, fish, and hybrids. Scenes from Al Nakba and the universal history of human oppression, such as mass hangings and forced marches, spill into representations that draw from his extensive erudition and his own syncretic imagination.”

hallajselfportraitwebSelf-portrait as Man, God, the Devil (detail)

Hallaj was a founding member of the trade union committee of the General Union of Palestinian Writers and Journalists and helped establish an art gallery in Damascus dedicated to Naji al-Ali, famous Palestinian cartoonist (Handala, the Palestinian defiance symbol, is one of Ali’s most famous characters).

Remembering the first encounter with al-Hallaj in the article for Jadaliyya, Samia Hallaby writes:

We ran into Mustafa one afternoon on Hamra Street, and he invited us to drop in later that evening to his tiny, humble abode. After several artists had arrived, Mustafa went out to bring food, alcohol, and cigarettes; as he was the exquisite master of ceremonies, the salon began when he returned. My impressions from our brief visit are confirmed by artist Samir Salameh, who lived and worked in Beirut from 1972 through 1979. He describes Mustafa’s Hamra Street studio as an open salon where artists congregated, and where food, drink, and conversation were enjoyed. Salameh remembers that ‘All the artists felt tied to the cause . . . We talked about sincerity in art and a commitment to our subject matter . . . If an artist was concerned with politics and did poor work we would help him improve . . . Many of us liked Picasso and felt he was the master of modern art. We always talked about Diego Rivera and the Mexicans . . . We loved the Futurists and the Cubists.’ Throughout the revolutionary artistic and intellectual flowering in Beirut of the 1970s, Palestinian liberation artists engaged in a spirited dialogue on aesthetics; and Mustafa was at its inspired center.

In the interviews, al-Hallaj talked about the symbols in his artworks saying: “I get my symbols from literature. I made a reading plan for myself in 1952 and I am still on schedule. I read everything but I concentrate on literature and folklore of the world, with the guideline that one of the mind’s eyes is a telescope and the other a microscope.”

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His artworks and all the details they carry within them, serve as notes and reminders, as mirrors and reflections – of Palestinian history, Palestinian struggles, and Palestinian life throughout time. It was his revolution, his great act against oblivion and that is why Hallaj’s contribution to the art of resistance  remains indispensable. As Samia Halaby writes:

“‘As one peruses the print, each part is called forth by the previous image,’ he affirmed. In one section is a figure bent at right angles from the waist, holding up a graveyard on his back. A bird that the artist called a ‘Hodhod,’ the Afro-Eurasian Hoopoe or ‘Stink bird,’ precedes the man. Because the bird has a smelly bump on its head, according to Mustafa, in folktales it is said that it carries its dead mother buried in its head. About the man in this particular section of his frieze he revealed:

‘Our friends when they die are buried in us . . . Their bodies go to the graveyard but their personalities stay with us. We Palestinian artists are an orchestra. We are one choir… We have many friends and many died. We are a walking graveyard of these personalities who left.’

Mustafa was honoring lost comrades in struggle as he poured decades of his experiences into this work.“

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For more on Mustafa al-Hallaj, read the full article by Samia Hallaby on Jadaliyya.

//all the images © the artist’s estate. I found them on Mustafa al-Hallaj facebook page//

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Windows from Gaza – War Insane.

Basel Elmaqosui is a Palestinian painter, photographer and video artist. Born in 1971 in Gaza City, Basel always seeked for new ways to express himself and the chaos of life in Gaza. His artworks have been exhibitied all over the Middle East and Europe, and he has won many awards. He is also the founder of Windows from Gaza – Windows for Contemporary Art.

Here is one of his artworks – War Insane.

Artist statement:

To my Mother, my wife and my sister who have been kidnapped by the war insane
To Zeyad Deep, who lost 15 members of his family by the bombardment of the war insane.
To the mother who sowed the wound of her child and then he slept dead between her arms for four days.
To all of  those who lost their houses (I’m one of them), to all those left broken-hearted and hurt by the white phosphor, the tanks, the bulldozers, the air forces of the war insane.

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/all images © Basel Elmaqosui/

For more on Elmaqosui and his work, visit his facebook page and Windows from Gaza.

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art of resistance, Iran

Rapture (Shirin Neshat).

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 Shirin Neshat: Rapture

Rapture, one of Neshat’s early works, consists of two projections shown on opposing gallery walls. One projection shows a group of men dressed alike in Western-style white shirts and black pants. The other shows a group of women wearing traditional Iranian dress, including the chador,which covers their heads and most of their bodies, and in some cases, the niquab, a face covering. Despite these garments, the viewer is able to decipher individual features and expressions.

The installation, which is 13 minutes long and shown in continuous loops, shows elegiac and meditative scenes of the two groups. As the women traverse landscapes of sand and stone, the men navigate the stone architecture of an ancient city. As the women cry out—whether in celebration or anger, it’s unclear—the men unroll Persian prayer rugs and quarrel. In the final scene, the women gather on a beach, where they maneuver a small boat into the crashing waves. As their bare feet break the sand surface, the hems of their chadors become wet with salt water. Ultimately, six women remain in the boat as it drifts out to the sea.

Although art historians reference Neshat’s upbringing in Iran and her experiences in the United States as a way to shed light on her body of work, Neshat herself is neither dogmatic nor clear about her intentions. “From the beginning,” she said in a 1999 interview with art critic Arthur Danto, “I made a decision that this work was not going to be about me or my opinions on the subject, and that my position was going to be no position. I then put myself in a place of only asking questions but never answering them.”

Writing in The New Yorker about Neshat’s two-channel projections, Peter Schjeldahl wrote, “Neshat’s elegant, two-screen meditations on the culture of the chador in Islamic Iran emit an icy heat of suppressed passions; they are among the first undoubtable masterpieces of video installation.” 

For more, go to Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Homes for the Disembodied – Palestine.

Mary Tuma is a Palestinian – American artist and art professor. Born in California in 1961, Tuma began sewing and crocheting with her mother at an early age. Her love of these processes led her to begin her formal study of art as an apprentice at Beautiful Arts Hall in Kerdassa, Egypt, where she learned to weave tapestries.

Her work addresses issues of the transformation of the body and the spirit through the use of clothing forms applied to found objects or placed within a contextual environment. For her, the use of old fabrics and found objects is important in creating a work or environment that evokes a feeling of loss, or distant memory. About her work, she says:

I am interested in the sorting of images from the past, images that are like shadows or ghosts, something not quite whole and no longer real but still of great influence and power. In most of these works there is evidence of loss—an allusion to the passing of time; a vacant space within a form once occupied; an identity that merges fully with it’s environment. To speak of this loss, I superimpose worlds.“

One of her artworks, Palestine, is particularly mesmirizing. Tuma’s dresses make notice of the absence of the human form, and by doing so, provide a metaphor for the status of a people who are known more for the shadow they cast on current events than for their own personalities and culture.

Palestine – Homes for the Disembodied

“This is a tribute to Palestinian women who provide strength in terrible circumstances, but who receive little recognition. A place for the spirits of those forced out of Jerusalem to dwell. The dresses are sewn from one continuous 48 meter length of fabric.”

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all images © Mary Tuma/Station Museum

For more on Mary Tuma and her work, visit her official website and see her profile on Contemporary Practices.

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