“The Roots for a Palestinian Nahda”: Zulfa al-Sa‘di and the Advent of Palestinian Modern Art
Keyword: 
Palestinian art
painting
photography
modernism
tradition
nationalism
nahda
archives
exhibitions
fairs
Abstract: 

This article examines the significance of Zulfa al-Sa‘di’s paintings in the advent of modern art in Palestine. Although her work was largely prompted by the political context of 1930s Palestine, al-Sa‘di also drew from a robust archive of images, newspapers, and texts, recognizing their value as agents of national unity. Her ability to bridge Islamic themes with Christian motifs, historical texts with contemporary media, politics with poetry, painting with photography, and art with nationalism made her work palatable to an Arab intelligentsia who sought to reconcile tradition with modernity. Additionally, this paper will consider the context in which al-Sa‘di’s oeuvres gained traction, most notably the 1933 National Arab Fair in Jerusalem. National fairs represented a pivotal shift in the production, consumption, and exhibition of culture. They not only facilitated the display of Palestinian art, but also informed its content and purpose. The paper demonstrates that al-Sa‘di’s apparently traditional portraits relied on an intrinsically modern system of representation underpinned by the fair’s political agenda. By contextualizing alSa‘di’s portraits and reading them against her cache of historical and contemporary references, this article aims to give a more substantial account of al-Sa‘di, giving back visibility and agency to her life and work and asserting her importance in the history of Palestinian art.

Author biography: 

Laura Tibi is an art historian focusing on the modern Middle East. She holds an MA in art history and a BA in architecture from the University of Toronto. She will begin PhD studies in art history at Columbia University in 2021.

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