On February 22, 2017, Birzeit University Museum launched the exhibition Drawings of the Kafr Qasem Massacre by internationally-acclaimed Palestinian artist Samia Halaby. The exhibition was part of the Museum’s exhibition program for the year 2017.
In her exhibition, Halaby presents 16 works of art, in which she used an illustrative style to document a heartbreaking historical event – the Kafr Qasim Massacre of 1956. The artist had based her documentary research for this project on stories told by survivors, accounts they told of the families they had lost in the massacre, and all the press materials she could find.
In this show, Samia Halaby offered a form of work that is different from the usual and she clearly places herself as an activist and advocate for her people’s cause. She viewed this project as a work of documentation rather than a work of art.
In addition to her unique practice of contemporary abstract painting and her research of Palestinian liberation art, Halaby has designed a number of posters and banners used in demonstrations across the US – which she considers as part of her activism, not her art production.
Through her lifetime dedication to art and political activism, Halaby managed to develop her own distinctive artistic and intellectual experience and raise questions on the role and responsibility of art in life.
The show also featured the launch of a book by the same title, which was recently published by Schilt Publishing in Amsterdam (2017). The book is a summary of the research conducted by Halaby to produce this project’s drawings. It includes a collection of survivor testimonies and an attempt to reproduce an archival record of events in painting based on a number of reliable sources and references. The artist will also present three recently completed acrylic paintings from her Illuminated Space series: Mountains Between Birzeit and Ramallah; To Return, Infiltrate; and Mondrian Boogie Woogie. Critic Maymana Farahat shed light on the artist’s three paintings and placed them within the latter’s broader experience in painting and art history.
This is Samia Halaby’s first solo show in Birzeit University, although her relationship with the University and the Museum dates back a long time: in the past, she has participated in group exhibitions as well as a number of educational art workshops for students. She has also donated some of her works to the Museum and has helped collect artwork by other artists, who followed in her footsteps.
In this exhibition, Halaby donates a number of her works, once again, to the Museum’s collection, so that they may forever be present in the consciousness of future generations and be always accessible to audience from all backgrounds – students, teachers and researchers.
Samia Halaby was born in Jerusalem. She is a leading figure of abstract art practice and stands among the most influential Palestinian artists today. Despite being based in the United States since 1951, Halaby is considered a pioneer of abstract art in the Arab world.
The artist was influenced by Russian avant-garde abstract movements. Throughout her career, she conducted her work with the belief that new painting methods can develop new perspectives and ways of thinking, in terms of not only painting aesthetics, but technological and social change as well.
Since the 1970s, many international institutions sought to obtain Halaby’s works, including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (NY and Abu Dhabi), The Yale University Art Gallery, The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., The Art Institute of Chicago, The Cleveland Museum of Art, L’Institut du Monde Arabe, and The British Museum.
Samia Halaby is represented in Ayyam Gallery (Beirut/Dubai).