Aug 05 2020

Obituary: Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara (1933–2020)

by Fion Tse

Artist ABDUL HAY MOSALLAM ZARARA, known for his celebration and advocacy of Palestinian culture, has died at the age of 87. Image via Facebook.

On August 1, artist Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara, whose work focused on Palestine and the struggles of its people, passed away in Amman, aged 87. 

Zarara is known for his painted sawdust-and-glue reliefs through which he condemned the occupation of his homeland and also celebrated its culture. While in some works he used motifs of strewn bodies and guns to communicate the horrific violence Palestinians have suffered, other works portray Palestinian traditions with bright palettes and intricate details, reflecting the small joys of everyday life.

Born in 1933 in Al-Dawayima village in Mandate Palestine, Zarara and his family were forced to flee their home in 1948 after the Al-Dawayima massacre during the nationwide Nakba, when over 750,000 Palestinians were displaced by Israeli forces. In 1967, he joined the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Syria and traveled to Libya in the 1970s, where he first taught himself to mold faces from magazine covers and began to create reliefs. Soon after his first solo exhibition in Tripoli in 1978, he moved to Beirut, where he held his second solo show amid the 1982 siege of Beirut. 

Over the next three decades, he continued to exhibit in the region and abroad, including the exhibition “Resistance Art” in 2004 at Philadelphia University, and “Mahfouza’s Olive” in 2006 at Dar Al-Anda gallery, both in Amman. In 2011, a retrospective was held at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. Further afield, his works were included in group exhibitions at the Nottingham Contemporary in the UK in 2011 and at New York’s New Museum in 2014. He participated in Sharjah Biennial 12 in 2015, displaying 31 reliefs. His work is in the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah.

Zarara’s colorful reliefs depicting traditional marriage ceremonies are among his most iconic. The Young Women’s Dance (1968), for instance, portrays a scene from the weeklong festivities, in which young women perform dances at the groom’s house. Though these strike a contrast against his other works explicitly addressing the terrors of war, the bright scenes of quotidian life promote a distinctly Palestinian identity, forming an integral part of his call to resist Israeli occupation. 

According to the Ma’an News Agency, Zarara was remembered in a statement by Palestinian culture minister Atef Abu Saif on August 2 for devoting his life to a cause of freedom and salvation. On the same day, an Instagram post by Omar Kholeif, director of collections and senior curator at the Sharjah Art Foundation said of Zarara, “What an incredible life and body of art you have left behind.”

Fion Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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