Being Samia Halaby: Artistic Practices: On the sinuous path from inspiration to implementation: Interacting with Earth

This article appeared in Being Samia Halaby Issue #68 dedicated to spotlighting the journey of Samia Halaby, a Palestinian-American artist whose resilience shines through despite challenges like the cancellation of a significant exhibition at Indiana University. Halaby’s remarkable year, marked by global exhibitions and well-deserved acclaim, underscores her ability to transcend borders with art that prompts reflection on themes of identity, belonging, and social justice, serving as a bridge across cultural divides.

As an artist, Samia Halaby has sought to infuse her creations with the vitality and essence of life itself. With a profound connection to nature, she embarked on a journey to explore the very properties that animate the world around us. Through her art, Halaby delved into the intricate interplay of light, colour, and form, drawing inspiration from the organic rhythms of the natural world.

Red Waters, Okefenokee Swamp, Suwannee River, 1994.
Red Waters, Okefenokee Swamp, Suwannee River, 1994.

Central to Halaby’s vision has always been her deep-rooted and troubled Palestinian identity, which found expression through themes echoing the land, soil, and olive trees of her country. In her quest to evoke the spirit of her homeland, she looked to the earth itself, finding inspiration in its rugged beauty and timeless resilience. By incorporating these elements into her work, Halaby not only captured the essence of her heritage but also celebrated its enduring vitality, even as the world witnessed Palestine’s ongoing struggle to exist.

Yet Halaby’s art is not purely nostalgic, or confined to serene landscapes and idyllic scenes. Unapologetically confronting the harsh realities of history, she boldly addresses the atrocities inflicted upon her people. One such haunting chapter is the Kafr Qasim massacre of 1956, where Israeli forces brutally massacred innocent Palestinian civilians. Her visceral depictions of this tragedy serve as a stark reminder of the ongoing struggles faced by the Palestinian people.

In her pursuit of truth and justice, Halaby employs a diverse array of mediums, from traditional painting techniques to unconventional materials like paper-mâché and knit clothing. Through each stroke of her brush or weave of her fabric, she breathes life into her art, infusing it with raw emotion and unwavering conviction.

In essence, Samia Halaby’s art transcends mere representation; it pulsates with the vitality of nature and the indomitable spirit of Palestine. Through her uncompromising vision and unyielding dedication, she invites us to bear witness to the beauty, resilience, and struggles of her people, while forging a powerful testament to the human experience over a period of decades. She simultaneously provokes, challenges and inspires us.

Interacting with Earth

Earthworks for me are the manipulation of soil, sand and interacting with waves, allowing processes of nature to erase what I draw and then redrawing, allowing this interaction to become a generative practice in making art that will be erased by nature. There remains only video documentation and photography and the influence on my sensations and aesthetic thinking. Those remains are experiences that become part of a visual language shareable with others.

The Suwannee River is famous for its red waters that have inspired amazement. Songs about it made it widely known. I made a special trip to southern Georgia, rented a car which fortune would have was bright red. I could sense the police cars shadowing this stranger, me, in a zippy red car, female and alone, roving back roads looking for an isolated place to enjoy the red waters. I did find a small, out of the way landing and made a few works. But I was too scared to get into the strange waters. 

In occupied Palestine, I hired a taxi and driver and went to the Dead Sea to a resort created by the Israelis. Thankfully it was off-season, and no one was there. I had wanted to see the touted salt formation but instead found a sizable lakeshore area of squishy mud. The colourful iridescence of the mud revealed itself in my deep footprint. I manipulated the stones into bas-reliefs of iridescent red and green. I wanted to claim the land and form the Palestinian banner of liberation. But my deep footprint said more.

My Footprint, Our Dead Sea, 1997.
My Footprint, Our Dead Sea, 1997.



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