“The Impossible Dream,” a new exhibition at Zenith Gallery’s Sculpture Space, introduces Washingtonians to the best artwork from the Palestine Museum US, which is based in Connecticut. “The Impossible Dream” is a celebration of color and form by an often-overlooked group of artists.
Palestinians in the Middle East and in the global diaspora are no strangers to hardships, but COVID-19 threatens further economic and social devastation—threats to homes, land and even the loss of agricultural products. But as shown in this exhibition, artists in Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora carry on, as their painted figures dance and work in a depiction of hope and joy.
In a pandemic-era visual embrace, Sana Farah Bishara’s bronze sculptures are reduced to a more essential form—face and arms angle toward 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 U.S., Bishara’s bronzes, heavy in weight but delicate in expression, are juxtaposed with 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 all embraced by contemporary Palestinian artists. Samar Hussaini’s canvas sculptures tell stories of resilience and hold on to both traditional textile patterns and abstract modern forms. Her hand-painted cloth garments made of Bemberg (regenerated fiber made from cotton linter) 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 women’s marches and other protests in Palestine. Nameer Qassim and Manal Deeb portray images of lone women with a clearly contemporary message: “See me, I am not afraid,” they are clearly suggesting.
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 Karin Abu Shakra, shows cacti, urbanization and landscape in a jumbled structure reminiscent 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 work 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 is seen in Samia Halaby’s bright yellow and impeccably textured, flowering “City Tree” surrounded by crisp rectangles, as well as Israa Ahmad Frihat’s “Jaffa Oranges,” where oranges tower over the city, accentuating the symbiotic relationship between citrus and city. The smell of dry heat, stones and trees nearly reaches out from the canvas.
Meanwhile, 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 of individuals to rally an audience. Cityscapes depict the blur of centuries, living memory and tradition. The people are tied to their land by their shared patterns and colors. Together, “The Impossible Dream” captures the vibrant, spirited voice of Palestinian artists.
“The Impossible Dream” runs daily until Nov. 21 at 1111 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Masks are required and attendance is limited. All works are available for sale. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Please enter on the 12th Street 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.
Elizabeth Ashe’s “The Impossible Dream at Zenith Gallery” was published in Artscope on Oct. 2, 2020.