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Samia Halaby

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Samia A. Halaby
Known forPainting, Art History
Notable work
"Liberation Art of Palestine: Palestinian Painting and Sculpture in the Second Half of the 20th Century" (H.T.T.B Publications)

Samia A. Halaby (born 1936) is a Palestinian artist and scholar who lives and works in New York. Born in Jerusalem in 1936 during the British Mandate, today she is recognized as one of the Arab world's leading contemporary painters.[1] Since beginning her artistic career in the early 1960s, she has exhibited in galleries, museums, and art fairs throughout the US, Europe, Asia, and South America. Her work is housed in private and public collections around the world.

Receiving her academic training in the US, Halaby has also been active in American academia, teaching art at the university level for seventeen years, a decade of which was spent as an associate professor at the renowned Yale School of Art (1972–82)[2] She also taught at the University of Hawaii, Michigan State University and the Kansas City Art Institute. At the Yale School of Art, she was the first woman to hold the position of associate professor.

Based in New York since the 1970s, she has long been active in the city's art scene, mainly through independent and non-profit art spaces and artist-run initiatives, in addition to participating in leftist political organizing for various causes.[3] She has long been an advocate of pro-Palestinian struggles.[1]


Halaby and her family were expelled from their home in the port city of Yafa (Jaffa) in 1948 with the creation of the Israeli state. They fled to Lebanon, where they resided in Beirut until 1951 and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio.[4] In 1959, she received her Bachelor of Science in Design from the University of Cincinnati and graduated from Indiana University with a Masters in Fine Art in 1963. Shortly after she went on to hold her first academic teaching position at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri. In 1966, she returned to the Arab world for the first time since being exiled for a long tour of Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Turkey, where she researched Islamic architecture and geometric abstraction as part of a Faculty Development grant from the Kansas City Art Institute.[5] Since then she has periodically returned to Palestine and the Arab world, where she has worked, conducted research, and exhibited.[4] Her frequent visits have resulted in a number of developments in her work including large bodies of paintings and drawings exploring the visual culture of Palestine and its natural setting.[4] This includes a special documentary set of works on paper titled "The Kafr Qasem Drawings," an ongoing series that began in 1999 after interviewing survivors and relatives of the victims of the 1956 massacre that occurred in the Palestinian village of Kafr Qasem.[6]

Painting Style

Halaby primarily works in abstraction but has also utilized a documentary-style of figurative drawing in more politically oriented works, namely her Kafr Qasm series. She has designed dozens of political posters and banners for various anti-war causes and is featured in the publication "The Design of Dissent".[7] The development of her work over the past fifty years has been closely related to locating the many principles of abstraction in nature utilizing a materialist approach.[8] A number of her paintings have been created by building upon the methods and forms of certain historical applications of abstraction, namely that of the Russian Constructivists and examples of traditional Arabic arts and Islamic architecture.[9] The visual culture of Palestine and its natural setting have also figured into her paintings, as has the dynamism of New York City as experienced in the sights of people in motion and its busy streets [10]

Her approach to abstraction has ranged from works exploring the visual properties of the geometric still life to free-form paintings in the form of collaged pieces of canvas that are joined to create larger abstractions that are free from the stretch.[5] As of 2012, her oeuvre contained over 3,000 works, including paintings, three-dimensional hanging sculptures, artist books, drawings, and limited edition artist prints.

After retiring from teaching, Halaby began experimenting with electronic art forms, teaching herself how to program Basic and C programming languages on an Amiga computer.[1] Creating user friendly programs that would allow viewers to witness the process of live computerized painting, she enlisted the help of musicians for kinetic art performances that were inspired by jam sessions. Her "Kinetic Painting Group" toured extensively in the late 1990s.

References in Visual Culture

Due to her recognition in both the contemporary Arab art scene and in the US-based activist community, Halaby has been the subject of a number of art works by other artists. The 2008 film "Samia" by Syrian filmmaker and conceptual artist Ammar Al Beik was created around a taped interview of the artist that was commissioned by Ayyam Gallery, Dubai. In the film, Al Beik includes Halaby's own footage of a trip to the West Bank in which she narrates her stay there and later documents a trip to her grandmother's apartment in Jerusalem. This is interwoven with Al Beik's own sequences exploring the modern Palestinian condition.[11] In 2011, the Palestinian conceptual artist Khalil Rabah included a portrait of Halaby for his large-scale project of "ready mades" that stood as a "subjective" overview of contemporary Palestinian art history. Rabah's portrait is based on a photograph from the artist's archive that was taken at one of her first exhibitions in the 1960s.[12]

Scholarship on Palestinian Art

As an independent scholar she has contributed to the documentation of Palestinian art of the twentieth century through such texts as her 2001 book, "Liberation Art of Palestine: Palestinian Painting and Sculpture in the Second Half of the 20th Century" (H.T.T.B. Publications),[citation needed] a chapter titled "“The Pictorial Arts of Jerusalem During the First Half of the 20th Century,” that appears in the 2012 book, Jerusalem Interrupted: Modernity and Colonial Transformation 1917-Present (ed. Lena Jayyusi, Olive Branch Press)[4] and several curated exhibitions of Palestinian art in the US. She has also lectured widely on the subject in galleries and universities throughout the US and in venues in the Arab world.

In the early 2000s, she was instrumental in the landmark exhibition "Made in Palestine," which was organized by the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston and curated by James Harithas, Tex Kerschen, and Gabriel Delgado. Halaby actively assisted the curators in researching Palestinian artists, both in the US and the Arab world, introducing them to such artists as the late Mustapha Hallaj in Syria and Abdul Hay al Mussalam in Jordan, for example.[13] The first museum exhibition of Palestinian art to be held in the US, "Made in Palestine" (2003) went on to tour the US,[14]

The 2004 exhibition "The Subject of Palestine," which Halaby curated for the DePaul Art Museum, was described by the Chicago Tribune as presenting "the work of 16 contemporary Palestinian artists that even the least informed of viewers are likely to come away with the sense that they have seen and grasped something important." The review went on to congratulate DePaul Art Museum for its "incisive presentation.[15]

Public collections (partial list)

Exhibitions of Palestinian Art

  • "Art of Palestine" (2005) Zeitgeist Gallery, Cambridge, MA (curator)
  • "The Subject of Palestine" (2004) Depaul Art Museum, Chicago, IL (curator) (which later traveled to the Jerusalem Fund Gallery in Washington DC in 2005)
  • "Palestine: Art of Resistance" (2003) Tribes Gallery, Manhattan, NY (co-curator with Zena El-Khalil and Janine Al-Janabi
  • "Williamsburg Bridges Palestine" (2002) Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, Brooklyn, NY (co-curator with Zena El-Khalil)
  • "Palestinian Art" (2001) Headquarters of Union DC 1707, Manhattan, NY (curator)

Performances and Presentations of Kinetic Painting

  • Third and Fourth International Symposiums on Electronic Art (1993, 1994) Minneapolis, MN
  • Brooklyn Museum of Art (1994)
  • Philadelphia College of Art (1997)
  • Galerie Le Pont (1997), Aleppo, Syria
  • Atassi Gallery (1997), Damascus, Syria
  • Sakakini Art Center (1997) Sakakini Art Center, Ramallah, West Bank
  • BeirZeit University (1997), BeirZeit, West Bank
  • Darat al Funun (1997), Amman, Jordan
  • Lebanese American University (1998), Beirut, Lebanon
  • Lincoln Center (1998)
  • Williamsburg Art and Historical Center (1998) Brooklyn, New York


She still does lot of her artwork on the Amiga 2000.[16]


  1. ^ a b c Kaelen Wilson-Goldie (29 November 2004). "Painting Politics and Palestine". The Daily Star. Retrieved 2012-07-13.
  2. ^ Saeb Eigner, "Art of the Middle East: Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World and Iran" Merrell Publishing, London and New York (2010). ISBN 978-1-8589-4500-2
  3. ^ Maymanah Farhat, "The Samawi Collection" Ayyam Publishing, Dubai (2011). ISBN 978-9933-9089-1-1
  4. ^ a b c d Maymanah Farhat (2010). Samia Halaby: Five Decades of Painting and Innovation. Ayyam Publishing, Beirut. ISBN 978-9933-9089-0-4. Cite error: The named reference "Farhat" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference "Farhat" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  5. ^ a b Inea Bushnaq (2008). Samia Halaby. Fine Arts Publishing, Beirut. ISBN 9953-0-0878-7.
  6. ^ "Kafr Qasem Memorial Exhibition". artist's website. 2006. Retrieved 2012-07-14.
  7. ^ eds. Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilic, "The Design of Dissent" Rockport Publishers (2005). ISBN 978-1592531172
  8. ^ Annie Slemrod (4 November 2010). "Samia Halaby and the Politics of Abstraction". The Daily Star. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  9. ^ Samia Halaby, "On Politics and Art," Arab Studies Quarterly, Volume 11 Numbers 2 & 3 Spring/Summer 1989. ISSN 0271-3519
  10. ^ Nada Al-Awar, "Samia Halaby: Capturing the Roots of Resistance" Canvas Magazine (2006), Volume 2, Issue 1
  11. ^ "Samia". Yamagata International Documentary Festival. 2009. Retrieved 2012-07-14.
  12. ^ Khalil Rabah (2012). "Art Exhibition catalog" (PDF). Beirut Art Center website. Retrieved 2012-07-14.
  13. ^ Kathy Zarur (September 2008). "Palestinian Art and Possibility, Made in Palestine, an examination" (PDF). Nebula. Retrieved 2012-07-14.
  14. ^ Holland Cotter (24 March 2006). "Art Review: Made in Palestine". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-14.
  15. ^ Alan G. Artner (14 April 2005). "Review:The Subject of Palestine". Chicago Tribune. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  16. ^ Video on Youtube where she explains her working at the Amiga
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