“The Impossible Dream,” a new exhibition at Zenith Gallery’s Sculpture Space at 1111 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. introduces the best of the Palestine Museum US’s artwork. “The Impossible Dream” is a celebration of color and form by an often-overlooked group of artists. COVID-19 threatens further economic and social devastation – threats to homes, land and loss of agricultural products for sale or even individual consumption. As shown in this exhibition, artists in Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora carry on, depicting hope and joy, as their painted figures dance and work.
In a Covid-era visual embrace, Sana Farah Bishara’s bronze sculptures are reduced to a more essential form — face and arms angle towards an inner reflection but a missing second body keeps its distance — marking negative spaces as a gesture of love and longing. Rarely shown in the US, Sana Farah Bishara’s bronzes, heavy in weight but delicate in expression, juxtapose Solange Diaz Marcos’ solar prints, their layers revealing golden details of figures living within trees on a black plane. Fabric painting, calligraphy, and embroidery are not cast aside by contemporary Palestinian artists; these methods are embraced, and they are precious. Samar Husseini’s canvas sculptures stand alone and tell stories of resilience and hold on to both traditional textile patterns and abstracted, modern forms. Her hand painted Bemberg cloth garments are gorgeous “wearables.” Similarly, in Manal Deeb’s Horizon, the woman facing us amid layers of calligraphed Arabic poetry recalls the beauty of Palestinian faces and words. Mohammed Al Haj’s carved wall reliefs are bold narratives of the Palestinian Women’s March and surrounding struggles. Nameer Qassim and Manal Deeb take up images of lone women with a clearly contemporary message. See me, I am not afraid.
Women have direct connections to nature in many of these works. In Haya Ka’abneb’s Women of Palestine, women wear clothing patterned like they are part of nature, with blackbirds perched on shoulders after their flight. Cactus, by Karim Abu Shakra, shows cacti, urbanization, and landscape in a jumbled structure that reminds me of Philip Guston’s linework and quick blending style. In Immigration by Nahla Asia, figures are stacked vertically in a landscape, as if there truly is no other place they can go. Maria Eugenia Akel’s Untitled features steps leading skyward with downed bodies at their base, whereas Aileen Victor Abdo’s Transcript of Land and Amal Sobeh’s arched buildings recalling Islamic architecture, pay homage to a beautiful and ancient cityscape.
The longing and deeply rooted connection to the land from Samia Halaby’s bright yellow and impeccably textured, flowering City Tree surrounded by crisp rectangles, to Israa Ahmad Frihat’s Jaffa Oranges, where oranges tower over the city, accentuate the symbiotic relationship between citrus and city. The smell of dry heat, stones, and trees nearly reaches out from the canvas. In Rania Matar’s photography, the viewer sees a solitary woman standing in the surf – an action and locale so different that it feels like acceptance and protest at the same time.
A prevalence of single figures throughout this exhibit shows the strength found in one to rally an audience. Cityscapes show the blur of centuries, living memory, and tradition. The people are tied to their land by their shared patterns and colors. Together, this exhibition shows the vibrant, spirited voice of Palestinian artists.
(The show runs daily until November 21st at 1111 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, DC. Masks are required and attendance is limited. All works are available for sale. Gallery open M-F 8 am–7 pm, Sat, 8 am-4 pm Please enter on 12th St. side. If locked, knock on door and guard will admit. For more information, please contact Faisal Saleh, Palestine Museum US Director at Faisal.Saleh@PalestineMuseum.US
Opening Reception, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 5-8 PM, free registration on Eventbrite. Images will be online at the museum’s website: PalestineMuseum.US and will be featured on an online Zoom reception with the artists at noon EST US on October 18th. Free with registration at the museum website, https://www.palestinemuseum.us/)