On Friday night I attended the opening of an exhibit of mixed-media paintings by the fabulous Palestinian-American artist Manal Deeb titled “From There.” (The exhibit runs through May 11 at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery, 2425 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, D.C., 20037)
Deeb’s paintings speak to her Palestinian heritage across time and place, addressing issues of identity and memory. Through a trancelike blur of white, like a snowstorm or a dream, works like “Delirious in Exile” reveal swirling colors, snatches of sacred verses from the Quran and stylized eyes.
Other works incorporate bits of bark, burlap, traditional Palestinian embroidery and Arabic calligraphy rendered sharp, like thorns, and offer shadowy glimpses of the faces of refugees and Jerusalem’s golden Dome of the Rock.
Part dream, part memory, part mourning, part longing, the paintings also address the issues of survival and authenticity in a new culture. In her artist’s statement, Deeb asks: “What does it take for a person to persist from one time to another, that is, for the same person to be real at all the times?”
In a striking self-portrait, “From There,” Deeb appears partially obscured by a screen of white paint. Though eyes without faces are a recurring motif in her other works, in this portrait Deeb offers her face without eyes, without a window into her soul.
It strikes a precarious balance; the exact point at which one cannot tell if her face is being obscured or revealed. But given the jut of her chin and the smile on her lips, I like to think it is the latter, and that she will emerge, unfragmented, into the light.
Memories, dreams, reality: She is from there, and it is hers.
*** The poems accompanying these images were written by Iyad Hayatleh, a Palestinian poet living in Scotland whom Deeb met via the Internet. The opening lines from my favorite:
“There – far away
where the sky, just a bows length from a sigh
overshadows the doors of the houses
born out of tents
as it dries the tears of old women
who weep for the warmth of homes they left --
which remain on their eyelashes
wherever they dwell
wherever they go”