Umm El-Fahem Art Gallery

The gallery's main goal is to be a home for Arab artists and Art and to create a meeting point for a meaningful dialogue between cultures

Between Vision and Reality

By Said Abu Shakra, Director of the gallery and the creator of the concept of future Umm el-Fahem Museum of Contemporary Art
The city of Umm el-Fahem, an Arab city in Israel, lies on the slope of Mt. Iskander and the adjacent hills, overlooking the important historical route that once connected large and distant regions of a war-torn land. Many people and various cultures wound their way along the Wadi at the foot of the mountain, thus making it a pivotal crossroads and a major link in the development and future of the entire region.
Fifty thousand people reside in this now fast-growing community, destined to become a central cultural meeting place for the large, dense concentration of Arab population in the Wadi's surroundings by virtue of its location and unique qualities. For centuries the local residents have cultivated the land that became the source of their dignity, pride and livelihood. This persistent connection with the land has given rise to a diverse and fascinating culture encompassing fashion, poetry, pottery and building, as well as various customs and traditions.
The war that broke out tore the rich, delicate cultural fabric. In its wake, the large settlement became a place of gloomy corners and dark alleys. Families were scattered, leaving years of hard work and a devastated culture behind. The once rich and sprawling town was now poor and struggling to survive. Its residents were no longer masters of their own faith; they became persecuted refugees. Poverty, unemployment, and an identity crisis brought about one of the worst battles for survival the city has ever had to face. Under difficult social and political circumstances the community forged ahead with a clear message of protest, becoming the vanguard of the entire Arab population in Israel.
It was into this harsh and complex reality that the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery was born. Within a short period of time it became a center of culture and activity for the whole region. A sense of commitment to the past as well as to the future of the place motivates the people who continue steadfastly and lovingly to operate the Gallery. The mission is clear. Whatever was destroyed by the war should be rebuilt. This should be done at once, without compromise, and with a great effort. We realize that it is our heavy and long-term responsibility to rebuild, collect, study, commemorate and present all we can pertaining to the Arab and Palestinian culture that was crushed. The output of this work will be incorporated into a large building, the first ever Arab museum to provide a bridge between past, present and future, a home to a vision that will reinstate people with happiness, pride, and a sense of belonging.
The idea to establish a museum was born in a vast and anguished void, a devastating lack of professional staff, of resources and infrastructure. The Gallery started operating out of a sense of awareness and responsibility for the future, aiming to pave a new way in a new direction. The means are meager and the road is long and arduous. With only the existing means we have embarked on several different activities. Artists, curators and other professionals from different countries and cultures have been invited to take part in this joint collaboration. The Gallery has become an important social and cultural meeting place. The creative workshops, seminars, gallery talks, symposiums, the many art exhibitions and unique display spaces have turned it into a central place in the local and international culture scene.
The Gallery is now on its way to becoming the first Arab museum of contemporary art in Israel. This museum will be an inviting, embracing and enriching place, capable of bridging gaps and connecting different cultures that live side by side in the heart of a troubled, war weary region. We shall strive to raise a generation steadfastly true to its culture and identity, a generation that will take responsibility for its life and its future; a generation of proud and deep-rooted young people, committed to reclaiming the wilderness and to pursuing peace.

						

some of images frome the – Manifestations of Letter – exhibition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text in Contemporary Palestinian Art- Maliha Musulmani – Exhibition Curator

This exhibition, “Manifestations of Letter,” Text in Contemporary Palestinian Art, comes to satisfy the need to examine and reflect upon the accumulative textual and visual expressions in Palestine since the Nakba, and until now. Text has been overwhelmingly present in the Palestinian fine arts, whether in the form of alphabetical letters, words, phrases or narratives in Arabic or other languages. Whether forms of poetry, short text messages, words or alphabetical letters, the script has constituted the core of the artistic work or has formed an integral part of the totality of the visual narrative.

The significant presence of the script in the works of the Palestinian artist is due to its capacity of being derived from language, place and culture. Over the centuries, the Arabic language has gained a special and essential significance among Arabs, even before the advent of Islam — a prestigious status that was reflected mostly in poetry. However, the appearance of Islam, as well as the revelation of the Qur'an, constituted a major leap forward with regard to the status of the Arabic language.

Within the context of the works participating in this exhibition, 'text' does not only refer to calligraphy, neither is the exhibition reduced to works that elaborate the aesthetic aspects of Arabic calligraphy and language. Indeed, calligraphy is only a part –and not the whole– of the textual composition of Palestinians, constituting undoubtedly a great part of the cultural significance, as well as the visual aspects and aesthetics of identity. Calligraphy is a form of art in which the Palestinian artist finds an infinite world of fiery visual configurations, as can be seen in the works of the three artists from Gaza that are participating in this exhibition: Basel el-Maqusi; Sharif Sarhan and Majed Shalla. In addition to the recognizable excellence of their visual artistic capacities, we can observe how the three artists share a common engagement with the aesthetical aspects of the text, freeing it from the chains of traditional calligraphy, while at the same time situating it in the

contemporary Palestinian-Gazan context. Their artwork shows how text and calligraphy are key elements in the contemporary Palestinian art.

However, calligraphy does not dominate the textual aspects of Palestinian arts; on the contrary, a great deal of the textual expressions has its origins in visual configurations that are quite far from calligraphy and its aesthetics. These may be handwritten, painted in color, printed, or contained in video and/or sound format, as in the cases of Nisreen Abu Baker, Bashar El-Haroob and Ra'fat As'ad. While the video artwork of the first is inspired by the textual expressions of mourning in Palestinian popular culture, in El-Haroob's work the rhythm of writing the text is only heard, but not seen. The text in the work of As'ad, on the other hand, is based on sound only. The diversity of the use of the text  in contemporary artworks invokes in the mind of the observer many complex semantic prospects, for the script draws its aesthetic and artistic aspects from its mere presence in the work of art, either as a major theme within it or as an essential element of its composition. 

In addition to the well rooted Arab-Islamic linguistic culture, Palestinian literature, and Arabic literature in general, constitute the primary material for the Palestinian fine arts. Palestinian resistance literature has provided Palestinian artwork with an intense and distinctive verbal legacy, especially inside the Green Line. As Palestinian artist Kamal Balata has suggested, the resistance literature has constituted the framework in which the Palestinian visual arts movement inside the Green Line grew. Therefore, it is impossible to read Palestinian work of art created within the Green Line without any knowledge of the legacy of resistance literature. Palestinian arts in general do not borrow words only from Palestinian and Arabic literature. By primary material, therefore, we also mean the concepts and prospects with respect to identity, as well as the political and cultural issues such as the Nakba, refuge, exile, resistance, nation, the representation of the Palestinian woman and other basic themes in Palestinian literature that continue to constitute the major themes of Palestinian art. That is true with regard to Abed Abdi, Khader Washah, Farid Abu Shakra and May Murad, who invoke textual as well as conceptual citations from the works of well-known Palestinian and Arab writers and poets.

Text in Palestinian art can either be inspired by a popular legacy or derived from one that is national. It can also be an element inserted into one of the above. This is the case of the work of Taysir Barakat, in which letters written by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to their families, are placed in glass boxes. In my opinion, the work of Barakat intends to represent these letters as part of a legacy that is both cultural and national. In addition, these texts produce a parallel world that is in dialogue with the entire painting or picture. Thus, the dialogue creates an isthmus-like world between the reading of the text, on the one side, and that of the visual work, on the other, in addition to all that is present between them. In this sense, we can draw parallels between the works of Taysir Barakat, "Rail of Birds" by Maliha Musulmani and the Egyptian artist Adel Wasili, and "Abdullah: The Poem, the Flesh" by Farid Abu Shakra. In other works in the exhibition, the text appears as a word or a short phrase that encompass collective and individual linguistic and cultural aspects. The work of Anisa Ashkar on the horse is illustrative in this regard, as well as her other works exhibited here. Finally, we can note how in the works of Asad Azi we find words from languages foreign to Arabic– a reference to the multiple layers of the Palestinian textual-visual discourse.

The implications of text in contemporary Palestine art is widely discussed in an article by the exhibition curator, Maliha Musulmani, which will be included in the exhibition catalogue to be produced by the Umm El-Fahem Gallery within the next few months.

This exhibition, “Manifestations of Letter,” Text in Contemporary Palestinian Art, comes to satisfy the need to examine and reflect upon the accumulative textual and visual expressions in Palestine since the Nakba, and until now. Text has been overwhelmingly present in the Palestinian fine arts, whether in the form of alphabetical letters, words, phrases or narratives in Arabic or other languages. Whether forms of poetry, short text messages, words or alphabetical letters, the script has constituted the core of the artistic work or has formed an integral part of the totality of the visual narrative.

The significant presence of the script in the works of the Palestinian artist is due to its capacity of being derived from language, place and culture. Over the centuries, the Arabic language has gained a special and essential significance among Arabs, even before the advent of Islam — a prestigious status that was reflected mostly in poetry. However, the appearance of Islam, as well as the revelation of the Qur'an, constituted a major leap forward with regard to the status of the Arabic language.

Within the context of the works participating in this exhibition, 'text' does not only refer to calligraphy, neither is the exhibition reduced to works that elaborate the aesthetic aspects of Arabic calligraphy and language. Indeed, calligraphy is only a part –and not the whole– of the textual composition of Palestinians, constituting undoubtedly a great part of the cultural significance, as well as the visual aspects and aesthetics of identity. Calligraphy is a form of art in which the Palestinian artist finds an infinite world of fiery visual configurations, as can be seen in the works of the three artists from Gaza that are participating in this exhibition: Basel el-Maqusi; Sharif Sarhan and Majed Shalla. In addition to the recognizable excellence of their visual artistic capacities, we can observe how the three artists share a common engagement with the aesthetical aspects of the text, freeing it from the chains of traditional calligraphy, while at the same time situating it in the

contemporary Palestinian-Gazan context. Their artwork shows how text and calligraphy are key elements in the contemporary Palestinian art.

However, calligraphy does not dominate the textual aspects of Palestinian arts; on the contrary, a great deal of the textual expressions has its origins in visual configurations that are quite far from calligraphy and its aesthetics. These may be handwritten, painted in color, printed, or contained in video and/or sound format, as in the cases of Nisreen Abu Baker, Bashar El-Haroob and Ra'fat As'ad. While the video artwork of the first is inspired by the textual expressions of mourning in Palestinian popular culture, in El-Haroob's work the rhythm of writing the text is only heard, but not seen. The text in the work of As'ad, on the other hand, is based on sound only. The diversity of the use of the text  in contemporary artworks invokes in the mind of the observer many complex semantic prospects, for the script draws its aesthetic and artistic aspects from its mere presence in the work of art, either as a major theme within it or as an essential element of its composition. 

In addition to the well rooted Arab-Islamic linguistic culture, Palestinian literature, and Arabic literature in general, constitute the primary material for the Palestinian fine arts. Palestinian resistance literature has provided Palestinian artwork with an intense and distinctive verbal legacy, especially inside the Green Line. As Palestinian artist Kamal Balata has suggested, the resistance literature has constituted the framework in which the Palestinian visual arts movement inside the Green Line grew. Therefore, it is impossible to read Palestinian work of art created within the Green Line without any knowledge of the legacy of resistance literature. Palestinian arts in general do not borrow words only from Palestinian and Arabic literature. By primary material, therefore, we also mean the concepts and prospects with respect to identity, as well as the political and cultural issues such as the Nakba, refuge, exile, resistance, nation, the representation of the Palestinian woman and other basic themes in Palestinian literature that continue to constitute the major themes of Palestinian art. That is true with regard to Abed Abdi, Khader Washah, Farid Abu Shakra and May Murad, who invoke textual as well as conceptual citations from the works of well-known Palestinian and Arab writers and poets.

Text in Palestinian art can either be inspired by a popular legacy or derived from one that is national. It can also be an element inserted into one of the above. This is the case of the work of Taysir Barakat, in which letters written by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to their families, are placed in glass boxes. In my opinion, the work of Barakat intends to represent these letters as part of a legacy that is both cultural and national. In addition, these texts produce a parallel world that is in dialogue with the entire painting or picture. Thus, the dialogue creates an isthmus-like world between the reading of the text, on the one side, and that of the visual work, on the other, in addition to all that is present between them. In this sense, we can draw parallels between the works of Taysir Barakat, "Rail of Birds" by Maliha Musulmani and the Egyptian artist Adel Wasili, and "Abdullah: The Poem, the Flesh" by Farid Abu Shakra. In other works in the exhibition, the text appears as a word or a short phrase that encompass collective and individual linguistic and cultural aspects. The work of Anisa Ashkar on the horse is illustrative in this regard, as well as her other works exhibited here. Finally, we can note how in the works of Asad Azi we find words from languages foreign to Arabic– a reference to the multiple layers of the Palestinian textual-visual discourse.

The implications of text in contemporary Palestine art is widely discussed in an article by the exhibition curator, Maliha Musulmani, which will be included in the exhibition catalogue to be produced by the Umm El-Fahem Gallery within the next few months.

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