Heba Zagout, 1984–2023
By Anna Lentchner
On October 13, Heba Zagout, a 39-year-old painter of vibrant cityscapes, homes, self-portraits, and symbols of Palestinian identity, was killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Two of her four children, Adam and Mahmoud, also tragically died.
Born in Gaza’s Al Bureij refugee camp in 1984, Zagout showed an interest in art from a young age. In 2003, she received a diploma in graphic design from the Gaza Training College, and went on to study fine art at Al-Aqsa University, graduating in 2007. Later, she worked as an art teacher at a primary school in Gaza, and according to Hyperallergic, was a former employee at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
Zagout used art as a cathartic emotional release, as well as to document her Palestinian heritage. In a video interview she said: “I consider art a message that I deliver to the outside world . . . [and] to express the negative feelings, emotions, and tensions that occur in Gaza.” She frequently painted images of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, identifiable by its golden dome that is featured in many of her works, often highlighted by fireworks or olive trees. In other paintings, women in colorful, tatreez-embroidered thobs hold doves and keys, symbols of peace.
Zagout held her last solo exhibition, entitled “My Children in Quarantine,” in 2021 at the nonprofit Dar Qandeel for Arts and Culture in Tulkarem. Her paintings depict herself and her children in masks, surrounded by other Covid-19 related imagery, in their homes and in front of the Old City. Just two weeks ago, she sold one of her paintings to Chris Whitman-Abdelkarim, a representative of the human-rights organization Medico International, which has offices in East-Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Speaking to the Middle East Eye, Whitman-Abdelkarim said: “Heba was a one in a million talent . . . She dedicated her life to her kids and her students and she spent every waking moment helping them use art to cope with the extremely tough life in Gaza.”
Zagout is survived by her sister Maysaa Ghazi, her husband, and her two children Faisal and Baraa.
Anna Lentchner is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.