Samah Shihadi draws to not forget. With her delicate, sensitive and precise works, this Palestinian artist offers a personal and yet universal portrayal of displacement and her historical roots. Shihadi’s hyperrealistic drawings, in black and white, and every shade of grey in between, appear to be statements that also bring comfort. A selection of Shihadi’s emotionally charged landscapes, touching family scenes, symbolic still lifes and mystical self-portraits will be on display in Roots, her first solo museum exhibition in Europe.
All drawings, courtesy Tabari Artspace ©Samah Shihadi
Samah Shihadi, Hanging series, 2018
At the table
Homesickness, or perhaps more a yearning for a lost home, is a significant theme in the burgeoning oeuvre of Samah Shihadi (Sha’ab, 1987). She uses graphite and charcoal to paint subjects including vegetables, fruit and herbs. Motifs such as thyme and fig leaves are not selected by chance: these are common products in Palestine. At first glance, the works appear to be exquisite botanical renderings. But closer inspection is accompanied by a rising sense of nostalgia. This sensation is intensified by Shihadi’s sombre use of colour, which is reminiscent of old black-and-white photographs. And with photographic precision, Shihadi raises cooking and eating together to ritual heights. The dinner table serves as an anchor for families as they reminisce, using food, fragrances and tastes to keep their history alive. Away from the kitchen, Shihadi also draws narratives of the present and past.
Inspired by Shihadi's art and her favorite dish, celebrity chef Sami Tamimi specially created this recipe for Shulbato. We share this with you in Dutch, English and Arabic.
Shihadi’s landscapes pay homage to birthplaces of generations ago. The artist took photographs of what she encountered as she travelled through deserted regions, and these images are transformed into monumental drawings, occasionally featuring members of her family. And sometimes only stony ruins, relics of old buildings. Shihadi’s (grand)parents were from Mi’ar, and could never return to their village after it was destroyed in circa 1948. The native cactus, prickly but strong, is a recurring subject in Shihadi’s work. The plant grows where the houses once stood of a community now scattered around the world. And for many Palestinians, the cactus is linked to their identity; symbolic of patience and resistance.
Samah Shihadi, Patience (Sabre Series), 2019
Samah Shihadi, Rebirth, 2022
Nevertheless, Palestinian traditions are at risk of being forgotten in the diaspora. Shihadi appears to want to use her art to enrich the collective memory. She preserves cultural customs for the future, reserving a lead role for women as bearers of family traditions and cultural heritage. In some of her works, Shihadi portrays her mother and sister in the domestic domain, sovereign in a patriarchal society controlled by men. These women’s activities appear practical and earthly, guided by the everyday.
There is also a feminist slant to Shihadi’s drawings. She uses metaphorical symbols to enshroud other – visibly independent – female figures in her work in surreal atmospheres. In part inspired by classical tarot cards and astrology, Shihadi mythologises the woman in a series of mystical self-portraits. The artist portrays herself as Lady Justice, a high priestess or an empress. Stately and powerful. With attributes such as a sword and scales, borrowed from Western legal symbology dating back to Roman times. Or with a Coptic cross, the sign of life stemming from Ancient Egypt. The woman here has an inviolable, almost supernatural status. She has a magical identity, which transcends religion and background. Which transcends history itself. Without a home, suspended in an empty universe, she was always destined to assume her rightful position.
Samah Shihadi, The Emperor, 2021
Samah Shihadi, Cloudhead, 2022
Samah Shihadi (1987) was born in Sha’ab and now lives and works in Haifa, Israel. She obtained a BA from Oranim College, Israel (2012) and an MFA from the University of Haifa, Israel (2015). Shihadi has won numerous awards, including the Haim Shiff Prize for Figurative-Realistic Art in 2018, which was followed by the solo exhibition Spellbound at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Her work has been exhibited around the world and can be found in both private and museum collections, primarily in the Middle East. Shihadi is inspired by the artists Georgia O'Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and Shirin Neshat, all strong women who depict (their own) female bodies in their work.
In honour of the exhibition of Shihadi’s work, artist Medy Oberendorff will be holding a ‘fine drawing’ workshop on Sunday 14 May 2023. Oberendorff studied at the Maastricht Institute of Arts and obtained an MA in Scientific Illustration from Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, Maastricht. Her book Wonderbos, with text by Jan Paul Schutten, was awarded a Zilveren Griffel in 2021. You will be able to register soon.
Participants do not require prior drawing experience.