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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 95 | volume XVII | March-April, 2014



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 95March-April, 2014

On Palestinian Art

Kamal Boullata. Palestinian Art: From 1850 to the Present. London: Saqi, 2010. 363. Bibliography, index. Pounds 25/$35.95 978-0-86356-648-6

p. 1
Rebecca Gould

Assembling the author’s prior writings on Palestinian art into a single book, Boullata’s Palestinian Art represents the most complete and comprehensive discussion of the history of Palestinian art available in English, its only competitor being Boullata’s own Arabic-language volume Istihdar al-makan: dirasa fi al-fann al-tashkili al-filastini al-mu’asir (Conjuring Space: A Study of Contemporary Palestinian Plastic Arts, 2000). Divided into four parts, this magnum opus includes a brief but provocative preface by art theorist John Berger, intermixed with haunting sketches of Palestinians caged behind barbed wires by Berger’s son Yves Berger.
    Palestinian Art
represents the culmination of more than three decades of the author’s fieldwork, research, and practice of the art of painting itself. Boullata brings the eye of an artist as well as of a scholar to his subject matter. He begins, as any history of Palestinian art must, with “the national catastrophe that precipitated the deracination and dispersal of the Palestinian people” (27) and the looting of Palestine’s artistic treasures that attended the birth of the state of Israel. But instead of moving chronologically forward from this point, Boullata moves backwards in time. Part 1 (“From Religious to Secular Painting”), discusses the birth and development of studio art in Palestine, with a particular focus on Ottoman Jerusalem. One of the book’s unexpected surprises is the discussion of the role of Russian and Byzantine iconography in “illuminating the course of the local painting tradition” in Arab Orthodox churches, and, ultimately also in secular art (32).
    Boullata’s chronicle of the birth of secular painting from religious art is followed by Part 2 (“Memory and Resistance”), which consists of four chapters set in the post 1948 era. This period of the most profound suffering for the Palestinian people also coincides with the appearance of abstraction in Palestinian art. Drawing on the work of postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha, Boullata traces in painstaking detail the multiple ways in which the emergence of abstraction in the field of aesthetics is linked to what Bhabha describes as the challenges of “a putting together of the disremembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present” (123).
    Part 3 (“Art from the Ghetto”) begins, as might be expected, with the 1967 Six-Day War (al-Naksa). But as with other sections of this book that begin with war and open onto new aesthetic horizons, Boullata discovers in the Palestinian ghettos that were the result of this war forms of art

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