Symbols in Traditional and Contemporary Palestinian Art

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Journal Title, Volume, Page: 
وقائع مؤتمر الفن والتراث الشعبي الفلسطيني الثاني/ واقع وتحديات/ صفحة 307-336
Year of Publication: 
An-Najah National University
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Symbols in Traditional and Contemporary Palestinian Art

Kamal Zeidan

Symbols have existed in the art of every nation throughout history. In Palestinian art, symbols have played a very essential role. The huge traditional heritage of the Palestinians along with the political situations that they have lived with, and still live with today, are what encouraged the Palestinian artists to use these symbols. These symbols were able to summarize the different situations and conditions in which the Palestinians lived. Each era of their history created its own symbols.

It is clear that the Palestinian artists who lived in the occupied territories preferred to use symbols more than those artists who lived in exile in the other Arab countries. “Works of artists in occupied territories are distinguished by their symbolism and surrealism. It is only natural for those living under occupation. They cannot express their patriotic feelings through the bold use of the realistic or expressionist realistic style. Symbolism and surrealism, as indirect means of expression, offer a handy substitute”. (1)

The Palestinian artist benefited from the western styles of art in the way that serves his goal. That goal cannot be separated from the goals of his community.” The use by Palestinian artists of “Western” styles, such as realism, expressionism, surrealism, Dadaism and even abstractionism, cannot be viewed as literal or blind imitation. On the contrary, their application of these styles was effected in a special manner such as to render them almost “Palestinianized”. (2)

Because the artist is sensitive to the issues of his society, he is the first who recognizes and expresses the interests of his people and land. “Palestinian artists have expressed an awareness to be a voice of the people and community as their primary audience. Palestinian art with its partiality can be described as ideological. This ideology is either veiled (in images such as domesticity and traditional activities), or explicit (in confrontational images such as clenched fists and politically sensitive symbols”. (3)

The symbols which I’ll try to talk about in this paper are related to the issues that the Palestinians’ life is based on. The heritage and culture are commonly represented by geometrical designs, traditional decorative motives and calligraphy. Liberation, peace, hope and future are represented by the dove, olive branch and broken chains. Martyrdom, suffering, revolution and identity are represented by prison bars, barbed wire, Kafieh, martyr, stone and gun.

(1) Shammout, Ismael; Art in Palestine, Page 15, 1988.

(2) Shammout, Ismael; Art in Palestine, Page 15, 1988.

(3) Makhoul, Bashir; Contemporary Palestinian Art, an Analysis of Culture and Political Influences, Page 73, 1995

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