ART OF RE­SIS­TANCE

WRITES ON A PALES­TINIAN COU­PLE WHOSE ART RE­FLECTS THEIR PEO­PLE’S STRUG­GLE

The Gulf Today - Time Out - - ART - MUHAM­MAD YUSUF

Shar­jah Art Mu­seum (SAM) is cur­rently host­ing (Oct. 24 – Dec. 15) the art­works of Pales­tinian cou­ple late Is­mail Sham­mout and his widow Ta­mam El-Akhal. Around 70 pieces are on dis­play, as part of the long run­ning ‘Last­ing Im­pres­sions’ se­ries.

Each of the pieces has been cho­sen by the artists’ fam­ily, to relect their im­por­tance.

On the can­vas and in video loops, the artists cap­ture the tragedy, hope and pride of the Pales­tinian peo­ple’s ag­o­nis­ing strug­gle of the past few decades. They are part of the Pales­tinian di­as­pora who have recorded their lives and are ight­ing for the right to re­turn.

They have them­selves ex­pe­ri­enced ex­pul­sion and be­came refugees dur­ing the Nakba of 1948. They have ded­i­cated their en­tire art ca­reers to the cause of their home­land.

Since the very early days of their pro­fes­sional lives, they be­came the “artis­tic face” of the Pales­tinian free­dom strug­gle. Their mem­o­ries of Pales­tine, their dreams of re­turn as well as the dig­nity and pride of their peo­ple, form the soul of their art. The sim­plic­ity of their themes – more ef­fec­tive since they fo­cus on es­sen­tials - and their artis­tic skills have won them a huge pop­u­lar­ity.

The ex­hib­ited works are taken from par­tic­u­lar stages in their de­vel­op­ment as artists. Hence they show dif­fer­ent styles and emo­tions. They have been grouped as:

*Years1948–1964(ap­prox­i­mately three works by Sham­mout and ive by El-Akhal) - Af­ter the Nakba, be­fore the Revo­lu­tion – Search­ing for an own iden­tity.

Af­ter 1948, more than half of the Pales­tinian peo­ple were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in neigh­bour­ing places.

It took them years to re­cover from this shock and deine their po­lit­i­cal path. For Sham­mout and El-Akhal, who mar­ried and worked in Beirut in the late 1950s as well as for many other Pales­tinian artists at that time else­where, the phase was char­ac­terised by the “search for own iden­tity” - at both artis­tic and so­cial lev­els.

*Years1965–1985(ap­prox­i­mately twenty works by Sham­mout and eight by El-Akhal) - Ex­press­ing the Revo­lu­tion – Art in the shadow of the Pales­tinian strug­gle and Pales­tinian life.

In 1964, the PLO was es­tab­lished as the na­tional po­lit­i­cal move­ment of the Pales­tinian peo­ple. As the sole rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Pales­tini­ans, it en­com­passed the en­tire spec­trum of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial groups and or­gan­i­sa­tions.

It had a pro­found im­pact on dein­ing the Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal strug­gle and cre­at­ing a na­tional iden­tity. The strug­gle in­spir­ited artists like Sham­mout and El-Akhal.

Arts be­came then an in­dis­pens­able weapon that played a ma­jor role in rep­re­sent­ing the Pales­tinian cause to them­selves and to the world.

*Years1986–2006(ap­prox­i­mately ten works by Sham­mout and twelve by El-Akhal) - Nos­tal­gia – Be­tween the Dreams and the Re­al­ity.

For the Pales­tinian revo­lu­tion, 1982 was a ma­jor turn­ing point. The Is­raeli in­va­sion of Le­banon in the sum­mer of 1982 forced the PLO lead­er­ship and in­fra­struc­ture to dis­perse yet again to­wards a new di­as­pora.

Sham­mout and El-Akhal re­mained in Beirut un­til the mid1980s and con­tin­ued their art ca­reers; but this was in the ab­sence of most Pales­tinian in­tel­lec­tual and po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties. In 1984, they re­lo­cated to Kuwait where they found them­selves among a siz­able Pales­tinian group.

Liv­ing be­tween the re­al­ity of a peace­ful daily life and long­ing for

a lost home­land, a wide spec­trum of works was cre­ated which var­ied from land­scapes and por­traits to tragedies and dra­mas.

* Years 2006 – to­day (ap­prox­i­mately six­teen works. All by El-Akhal) - We are still to­gether – Con­tin­u­ing the road with Is­mail al­ways in mind.

Sham­mout and El-Akhal moved to Am­man, Jor­dan, in 1994. Sham­mout passed away in 2006, leav­ing be­hind a legacy that can­not be de­tached from the col­lec­tive me­mory and cul­tural her­itage of modern Pales­tine.

El-Akhal con­tin­ued work­ing, phys­i­cally alone, yet, as she says, with Is­mail, her beloved hus­band and com­pan­ion al­ways present in her heart and in her mind.

Sham­mout has long been recog­nised as one of Pales­tine’s lead­ing mod­ernist painters. His style em­ploys fa­mil­iar sym­bols of Pales­tinian tra­di­tions and cul­ture that have con­trib­uted to con­struct­ing a vis­ual nar­ra­tive of Pales­tinian na­tion­al­ism. To this day, it con­tin­ues to in­lu­ence Pales­tinian, as well as Mid­dle East­ern artists.

At age 18, dur­ing the Nakba, he was forced by Is­raeli forces to lee from his birth­place (Ly­dda, Pales­tine) and take shel­ter in a refugee camp in Khan You­nis in the Gaza Strip. His wife ex­pe­ri­enced the tragedy of ex­pul­sion from her home in Jaffa dur­ing the Nakba in 1948. She can be said to be in­stru­men­tal in the de­vel­op­ment of Sham­mout’s ca­reer.

Both artists con­trib­uted de­ci­sively to the artis­tic vis­ual preser­va­tion of the Pales­tinian tragedy and his­tory and to­gether sig­nif­i­cantly mark the con­tem­po­rary col­lec­tive me­mory and cul­tural her­itage of Pales­tine.

One of the two videos on show was made by the late artist him­self. Pro­duced in 1973 and stolen by the Is­raelis and stored in the Is­raeli Mil­i­tary Ar­chive since 1982, it was only re­cently the fam­ily ac­ci­den­tally re­dis­cov­ered a copy of the ilm, thought to be lost for years. It has no nar­ra­tion - only mu­sic and sound ef­fects. It won the short ilm prize at the Leipzig Film Fes­ti­val in 1974.

Says Dr Tina Sher­well, au­thor of many texts on Pales­tinian art: “Of­ten emo­tion­ally charged, Sham­mout was able to cap­ture the sor­row, an­guish and hopes of the Pales­tini­ans through a reper­toire of iconic and an­i­mated ig­ures such as the el­derly fa­ther ig­ure, young vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren, youth­ful Pales­tinian women in tra­di­tional vil­lage cos­tumes, vil­lage life and Fe­day­een who car­ried the dream of the peo­ple for free­dom and re­turn.

“With the rise of the Pales­tinian na­tional re­sis­tance move­ment he moved be­yond the more solemn vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the plight of the Pales­tinian peo­ple by de­pict­ing op­ti­mistic im­ages of heroic ighters, danc­ing women in na­tional dress and Ar­ca­dian rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the lib­er­ated home­land and thus his works be­came more po­lit­i­cal in na­ture”.

In a talk in SAM on Oct. 27, ElAkhal re­called how she had heard peo­ple “scream­ing and cry­ing” as she led Jaffa dur­ing the Is­raeli in­va­sion. “I aimed to be ed­u­cated while in Beirut; I talked to my friends about my fu­ture aims. But they were talk­ing about their suf­fer­ings”.

She said that de­spite the dire sur­round­ings, her par­ents also wanted her to be ed­u­cated. It was around that time she dis­cov­ered a pas­sion for art. She started work­ing on her ideas and tried to be “unique” on the can­vas. “I dis­cov­ered my artis­tic soul!” she said.

She noted that she re­ceived many calls from many coun­tries to write about their lives. Thus she be­gan to write about their jour­ney. “I wanted to show peo­ple how my hus­band had reached his point in life – Is­mail sac­ri­iced a lot to fulill his aim”.

“I choose colours with the aim to make peo­ple feel my feel­ings”, she said. “We wanted peo­ple to feel the pain and suf­fer­ing caused by the Is­raeli in­va­sion”.

She said that it was very im­por­tant for English speak­ers to know about Arab cul­ture, since they are not very knowl­edge­able about it. Many of the duo’s works are found in Western col­lec­tions, partly fulilling this aim.

“In the West I found that teach­ers take stu­dents to mu­se­ums and teach them about paint­ings”, El-Akhal said. “I hope this takes place in the Arab World also”.

She also spoke about the iner points of art and ad­vised artists to choose the ti­tles of their works care­fully. They should re­veal the mean­ing of the art­works and should be at­trac­tive to view­ers.

Is­mail Sham­mout, Mem­o­ries of Fire, 1956.

Ta­mam El-Akhal, Shushana Oc­cu­pies My House, 1988.

Is­mail Sham­mout, Love and Dream, 2005.

Ta­mam El-Akhal

Is­mail Sham­mout

Ta­mam El-Akhal, Oh Lord, 1990.

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