Until the 20th of January 2011 – Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts

Abdul-Hay Mosallam Zahrara was born in 1933 at Dawaymeh, near Al Khalil (Hebron), in Palestine. He is a special kind of artist: He didn’t receive training at any institution; he discovered his own, very particular technique, based on painted reliefs, by himself. During his life, he worked in very special conditions, which are uncommon for artists usually encountered in the West… His whole life of exile when he was only 15 years old, the hard conditions of life in the Diaspora, his struggle for his country carried on through direct and artistic militance, are all factors which determined his artistic production in both subject matter and technique.
Of course, his subjects reflect his life. This is true for many artists. However, in this case, it is important to point out that he worked while living in the refugee camps, at first in Lebanon and later in Syria. He worked under the bombing during the siege of Beirut in 1982, and he succeeded in the holding an exhibition in the middle ruins of the city. At that time, his subjects were linked with the feelings and needs of the people who shared that hard life with him. This is still the case at present when the situation is changing, but still cannot be considered peace.

Through his work, Abdul-Hay strengthens the resistance of a people who are struggling on all levels to survive. He shows the life of the Palestinians – the village weddings and other gathering vividly painted on detailed reliefs, the quiet, happy, everyday life in Palestine, as it is in his dreams and the dreams of his people.
Abdul-Hay shows a particular sensibility towards women whom he regards as the motors of life and culture. In his works, the woman appears almost as the reason for life for the man. All his works, which are not connected with a particular event, are devote to the woman. Sometimes, she embraces the man. Often she is a palm tree at whose roots a man is seated playing the Oud (Arab string instrument similar to a guitar) for her. She is a tree, hence the symbol of life and strength. At other times, she is a boat, naked, with long hair, carrying the man. Always, the woman appears stronger than the man as if the artist is going against the current, challenging the subordinate role of women in the Arab World.
As regards technique, he uses very simple tools and materials in line with the sparseness of his life an exile and a fighter. A mixture of glue and sawdust makes up the reliefs in which the most minute details of facial features are carefully sculpted. On these reliefs, he paints in full color the figures surprised in the events of their life, or only green and brown for figures of his dreams about women. Four or five simple tools and a studio overflowing with raw materials, finished reliefs and pictures, complete the image of this extraordinary artist. For many years he had his studio in the Palestinian quarter of Damascus, still called “the Camp”. Sine 1992, he has lived and worked in Amman, Jordan.

His work is well-know in the Arab countries where he had more than 20 solo exhibitions, and participated in a great number of collective exhibitions with Arab and international artists. He is also known and appreciated in Europe where he has held solo exhibitions in Sweden, Finland, Yugoslavia and, more recently, in Switzerland (Zurich and Bern). Also in Europe, he contributed to collective exhibitions in Spain, Norway, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and the former Soviet Union and German Democratic Republic.
His artistic value has been recognized by American and European critics and journalists who wrote about his works in various magazines. In 1986, a film, “Gold Dust”, was made by Mohammad Mawas on his works. The title of the film points to the contrasts between the poverty of the raw materials and the value of their transformation in the artist’s work. In addition to his ongoing work, Abdul-Hay dreams of establishing a museum – not only for his own works and not only to collect works from the past, but as a place where one could house the present aspirations of his people.
Sally Bland

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