Mustafa Hallaj: Diasporic Meanings. A Retrospect

May 18, 2013 to August 20, 2013 - 13:30 to 16:00

The exhibition "Mustafa Hallaj: Diasporic Meanings. A Retrospect," held at Birzeit University Museum, is organized in cooperation with Al Hoash Gallery. The latter is running an annual programme where works of pioneers of the Palestinian plastic art movement are exhibited. The series of exhibitions explores the artistic expedition of the making of plastic art in Palestine in an attempt to preserve Palestinian visual arts experience, especially since the Palestinian visual arts heritage is under threat of disappearance due to lack of systematic archiving, documenting and preserving.

The works of Hallaj were inspired by allegories and symbols from Sumerian, Canaanite and ancient Egyptian mythology, as well as ancient and contemporaneous folk tales, customs and popular songs. His works are replete with visual associations that bring together realistic and symbolic representations manifest in his own contemplation on the Palestinian condition. Al Hallaj draws a Palestinian landscape embedded with aspects of ancient and contemporary events thus revealing sentiments of pain endured as a result of the expulsion coupled with the yearning for return: nostalgia for realms of unforgettable memory. His artworks constitute a vivid mythological style where he draws on themes from ancient mythology, attributing to them a sense of contemporary relevance, for example presenting mythological figures of men and women, half human, half animal, as well as giants and miniatures.

In line with Al Hoash’s objective to document artworks by pioneers of the Palestinian plastic art movement and Birzeit University’s museum generous support for this endeavor, the exhibition is an attempt to shed light on the artworks of the “Sheikh el Fananeen” (“Master of Artists”)– a title attributed to Al Hallaj. The exhibition encompasses works based on research and archival material that al Hoash managed to bring from Syria, in addition to other material obtained through the artist’s relatives in Palestine and from Palestinian art collectors.

The exhibition, “Diasporic Meanings”, constitutes of four main sections:

Firstly, myth, in its abstract and symbolic sense where we see that al Hallaj weaves into his works aspects of the ancient world in telling the stories of the Palestinian catastrophe and everyday living.

The second subject tackled in the exhibition is the use of allegories and symbols in depicting the landscape of Palestine. In this section we note an important collection of prints that portray Palestinian art of the “resistance art” variety, of which Al Hallaj was one of the pioneers and founders.

The exhibition then dedicates a special section to the “Mural”, a work that marks the tragic ending of Al Hallaj, as he died while attempting to rescue it from a fire in his studio at Gallery Naji al Ali in Damascus in 2002. The exhibition presents three meters of the mural, noting that the original size of the works was 101 meters. The work is accompanied by a video that shows the whole mural before it was damaged and broken up.

Finally the fourth section of the exhibition focuses on collecting research material from his writings, interviews, and sketches; there is also a short film produced by Al Hoash of conversations with those who were close to Hallaj, both artistically and personally. A catalogue will be published at a later stage, which will include articles about his life and work and reproductions of the paintings.

To this end, the exhibition is an attempt to establish a dialogue between the exhibited paintings and Hallaj himself, through citations from interviews that he had with cultural journals, published during the 1960s and 1970s. These interviews are meant to guide our way and move us a step closer to understanding the world of Mustafa Hallaj.


Rawan Sharaf
Birzeit University Museum