Samah Shihadi

 Palestinian hyperrealist, Samah Shihadi will be presenting Spellbound, the artist’s first solo exhibition at Tel Aviv Museum of Art commencing June 23. The exhibition draws together a body of Shihadi’s work that spans from 2012 until 2019 and deals with the artist’s perspectives on gender, personal and cultural identity, displacement and memory as an Arab, female residing in Haifa. Her works which include self-portraits, portraits of prominent female figures in her life, as well as the landscapes that have come to define her existence all of which are united by the overarching theme of the mysticism reflected in the exhibition’s title, Spellbound. The works selected for Spellbound weave in elements of the region’s rich history, rituals, traditions and religious practices that have invariably shaped Samah’s life. L ife-size self-portrait, Between Life and Death, (charcoal on paper, 2019), for example, depicts Shihadi’s enchanted figure draped in a toga of sorts which could be read as a mythological goddess or priestess. According to Shihadi her “dress” is the same white fabric used to cover the dead, or to sew bridal dresses, thus symbolising death as well as purity, cleanliness, new life and the future. The skull she holds before her womb recalls the works of an artist that Shihadi admires, Georgia O’Keeffe. In particular O’Keeffe’s 1931 painting Cow Skull: Red, White and Blue, that uses the skull to reflect America’s identity, as she perceived it when staying in New Mexico. For Shihadi, the cow skull symbolises victims and sacrifice, especially related to women. Another selected work, Mother and Daughter (charcoal on paper, 2019), sees the mulberry tree imbued with a sense of magic and nomadism. The tree has grown to magnificent proportions yet it has been planted in a barrel which suggests the possibility of moving it to another place. Shihadi’s grandmother planted the tree in the place where her house once stood and, according to the
artist, her spirit remains there. Shihadi says that since the death of her grandmother the tree has become a place where the family gathers to unite with her memory, pray, eat its fruit and absorb the powers of the soil and the tree. The tree thus became a magical-natural object of belief in perpetuity and of transmitting messages to other worlds. In a similar manner the artist unveils the magic embedded in the eating rituals of the region. Breadmaking for example is a cherished practice for all three of the main religions that form her community. Picnic (2018) which was also on display in Shihadi’s recent exhibition in Dubai, Hungry for Home , harnesses the power and significance of food. Shihadi exammined Palestinian dishes and communal eating customs as a mode of communication and embodyment for the collective experience of loss of identity, uprooting, and her desire to return home. Spellbound is on display until October 21 and has been curated under the prestigious Haim Shiff prize, an annual award bestowed upon Samah in 2018 by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The award, established in 2008, includes both a monetary prize and a solo exhibition at the museum and aims to support artists in the field of figurative realism.

October 1, 2019