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Palestinian artist Samia Halaby talks about her latest exhibition, “Flurrying”
DUBAI: Palestinian artist Samia Halaby, who just turned 85, has been painting for over 60 years, and she continues to learn and discover.
“Absolutely, you keep learning,” she told Arab News from her New York studio. “If you stop learning, you repeat yourself; it becomes a performance, and at what point does it get boring?
Halaby’s latest exhibition, “Flurrying,” which ran through Jan. 5 at the Ayyam Gallery in Dubai, features a series of personal memories and scattered shapes intertwined on abstract canvases, some of which were painted during the locking. She experiments with hand movements, creating geometric and gestural compositions bursting with color and movement.
A 2021 coin shares the show’s name. The canvas is full of vibrant lines, almost attacking each other, representing a spectacle observed by Halaby on a winter’s day. “It was snowing between two buildings and the wind was blowing the snow in all kinds of directions,” she recalls. “I took a video of it and thought, ‘Aha! This is the answer to all the questions I ask myself.
For Halaby, her art is trying to capture small moments that catch her eye and stay in her mind. “We’ve all seen dandelions fly, snow flurries or rain fall,” she explains. “Our brain registers them, our eye registers them. We may not have the verbal language to express them, but I have given you visual language to express them.
In “Evening in the Desert”, painted in 2019, a kaleidoscope of squares and cubes roams in shades of purple, blue and yellow. “It’s a very special moment,” she says. “A good friend invited my sister and I to dinner in Jordan. We drove to Ghor (in the Jordan Valley) and had a great day. On the way back, the sun was setting and I couldn’t believe what I was looking at: the beauty of the color; the subtlety, the fine differences.
Another piece on display was inspired by a conversation between Halaby and a fellow Palestinian painter, who creates works based on calligraphy. “She said, ‘I think of my parents and write them letters to tell them about what we are going through in Palestine,” said Halaby. “She was crying as she wrote these letters. It was so touching. So I was kind of influenced by her.
“Written in White Air for Palestine” is rendered in a flurry of brush marks, in which you can almost spot an Arabic letter or two, as part of what she calls the “calligraphic movement”. It strikes near us in several ways.
Born in Jerusalem, Halaby left her homeland 70 years ago. She started painting during her childhood. “I remember my paternal aunt once found me making paintbrushes out of chicken feathers,” she says. “My sister and her friend would ask me to draw for them. The idea of becoming a professional painter was thanks to my mother, who encouraged me.
Since the age of 14, Halaby has lived in the United States, but the memory of his true homeland still influences his art. “My commitment to Palestine is permanent. It’s part of me, ”she says. “I experienced the heartbreak of my father and my mother and their generation. “
Halaby is now a member of a respected group of Arab modernists of the second half of the 20th century; she is friends with the Jordanian sculptor Mona Saudi and has exchanged letters with the late poet and painter Etel Adnan. An admirer of nature and Islamic geometry, abstraction is and has been her profession, which she describes as “the language of the future for painting”.
Even with all of her years of experience, she says it can still be difficult to know when a painting is finished. “It’s one of the hardest things. I don’t think I have a (complete) answer, ”she said. “It’s easy to ruin a painting, but it’s also important to recognize that you have ruined it as well. “
There is something warm and reassuring about Halaby – she encourages viewers to stick to their own interpretation and understanding of a work of art, even if it is not the one its producer intended.
“I think viewers should trust their own feelings. When you look at a painting and see clues, you have to trust it, ”she says. “The fact that you come to the board and see something there – whatever you see – makes me feel better.”