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Palestinian Art: Shammout, Shibli, Tamari

Ismael Shammout

Shammout was born in 1930 in the Palestinian agricultural town of Lydda to a produce wholesale merchant. He remembered clearly how their world turned upside down when they were driven out of their homes on July 12, 1948.

Shammout was clearly influenced by the images that were captured by his artist's eye during his people's exodus and then by their life of misery and despair in the refugee camps. By 1953, he had a collection of 60 works - oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings. He packed them up and proceeded to Gaza, where he presented the first ever Palestinian art exhibition.

One of the paintings was the now famous "To Where...?" A distraught father, on the forced march out of Lydda, carries a sleeping child on his left shoulder, while a little girl clutches his right hand and looks up at him in exhaustion, and a third child trails behind. A stunning photo-like record of the loss and helplessness that was inflicted on some 800,000 Palestinians in that year, and came to be known as "Al Nakba" (the Catastrophe).

Shammout is considered to be a founder of modern Palestinian visual arts. His art consistently features scenes of the Palestinian tragedy and struggle, are widely reproduced in Palestinian publications, and have been exhibited worldwide. Explaining the driving force behind his art, and his dream of a Palestinian national museum in Jerusalem, Shammout said "We shall continue dealing with this subject because it is a way people can know about the suffering, sadness, and dreams of our country. All these works are a gift to our people and one day they will be held in a Palestinian museum."

Ahlam Shibli

Shibli’s lens attends to the bleak realities of Palestinian identities lived within Israel and the Occupied Territories. Born in Galilee, which became part of Israel in 1948, Shibli explores the topographical and emotional contradictions of people disconnected from one land now searching for another. ‘My work is about how we deal with being here, now,’ says Shibli. ‘I ask: “where are we and what are we?”’

In this context, we may want to ask a further question: how effective are photographs when it comes to responding to the socioeconomic, political, ethical, and cultural demands of the milieu in which they are produced, disseminated, and exchanged? This is a question that could be posed in reference to the Palestinian-born photographer Ahlam Shibli’s images of the Palestinian Bedouin of the Naqab. Displaced from their homelands since the 1960s to make way for Israeli settlements, the Bedouin of the Naqab have been consigned to live either in seven designated townships (home to more than 110,000 people in total) or in villages where the laws of the Israeli state effectively preclude any development or access to public services, such as education, healthcare, and sanitation.

The life of the Bedouin of the Naqab is indeed “barelife”—that is, life pared down to the most meager essentials and beyond the reach of national or international law. In Shibli’s images, home, territory, and statehood are all seen as provisional—mere tokens of a community that betray the absence of a political community.





Vera Tamari

Born in Jerusalem in 1945, Tamari received her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from Beirut in 1966. She specialized in Ceramics at the Institute of Statale per la Ceramica in Florence, Italy in 1972 to 1974, and obtained a M. Phil. degree in Islamic Art and Architecture from the University of Oxford in 1984.

Vera Tamari’s iconic installation refers to the hundreds of olive trees that have been destroyed. The olive is not only an essential food staple, but also a medicine, a cosmetic and a symbol for the attachment of Palestinians to the land. The wanton destruction of hundreds of these ancient trees by settlers and military forces is one of the many great tragedies of the occupation of Palestine.