Being Samia Halaby: Selection of Artworks: Over Six Decades of Bold and Explorative Artistic Expression Part III

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.

Generations, 1996, gouache on paper, 8.25 x 5 on 11 x 8 1⁄2 in (on 28 x 21.5 cm).

Halaby’s artistic evolution reflects a decades-long commitment to creativity and innovation. Her early exposure to the visual richness of Palestinian art laid the groundwork for a career marked by exploration and experimentation. Her journey took a transformative turn when she pursued her art education in the American Midwest during the 1950s, immersing herself in the shifting cultural landscape of the United States. Inspired by the geometric abstraction and vibrant colours of Palestinian visual arts, Halaby’s earliest work was rooted in her identity. Abstraction, in its purest form, became her language, devoid of the influences of Western art theory and movements. However, as she delved deeper into her artistic practice, Halaby’s technique began to evolve, influenced initially by the meticulous detail and luminous colours of Dutch painting. Her embrace of abstraction quickly expanded with an almost scientific approach, incorporating technological tools into her creative process.

Sharing Space, 1996, gouache on paper, 11 x 8.5 in (on 28 x 21.5 cm).

This intersection of art and technology allowed her to push the boundaries of traditional mediums, creating dynamic compositions that challenged the status quo. Throughout her career spanning over six decades, Halaby remained steadfast in her commitment to forging her own path, eschewing the gaze of professors and critics to explore her unique artistic vision. Her style, characterised by bold colours, intricate patterns, and geometric forms, defies easy categorisation, embodying a fusion of influences and ideas. What follows offers readers a highly detailed, scholarly perspective on her artistic journey, inviting them to delve into the thought process behind each brushstroke and composition. As she recounts her experiences and reflections, she provides invaluable insights into the complexities of the creative process and the enduring power of artistic expression. Halaby’s artistic journey is a reflection of broader social, economic and technological changes and the transformative potential of art in a rapidly changing world, and also, the world’s transformative effect on the evolving practice of art.


A Line is a Path, A Shape is a Field II, 1996, gouache and crayon on paper, 8.25 x 5 on 11 x 8.5 in (on 28 x 21.5 cm).

The Growing Shape series in my work emerged from the previous engagement with discovering principles in nature that could be translated into the process in making paintings. It was the early realisation of the idea of making a painting grow as a leaf grows. In One for Pollock and Tomlin, 1996, I was recognising my debt to Abstract Expressionism by indicating the names of two artists of the movement that I admired. Those are Jackson Pollock and Bradley Walker Tomlin. In this painting the idea of line acting like a path of motion dividing a field was uppermost as it was in the painting Rufus, 1986. Paths of motion might be rivers, or paths animals make, or the scary ones that humans make like super-highways to chop up the farmlands.

The Parade, 1996, gouache on paper, 8.25 x 5 on 11 x 8.5 in (on 28 x 21.5 cm).


Central Park, 1986, digital film, 640 x 480.

At the beginning, I used the programming language called BASIC which was relatively easy to learn. As my work developed, I began using the C programming language. There is a difference in my work between the two. C being more structured led to my making more smoothly organised, more thoughtful kinetic paintings. While those kinetic paintings programmed in BASIC had the charm of being created while I was excited and amazed at the power of the technology.

Bird Dog, 1987, digital film, 640 x 480.
Bird Dog, 1987, digital film, 640 x 480.
Samia Halaby Programming the Amiga, 1987.
Programming the Amiga, 1987.

A black and white photo of me sitting at the table that I built to house my Amiga in my studio. I worked on programming and painting in the same space at the same time. At first my programs seemed to reflect earlier aesthetic thought. With practice, I began to allow programming to affect the aesthetic process and thus began to think of things that could only be done through programming and algorithmic planning. Although experience with computing enlightened my practice, it was not a sketching method for painting on canvas. Painting, using pigment on canvas, continues to grow within the mature aesthetic sphere that I had created.

Installation View of the 1988 One-Artist Show at Tossan-Tossan Gallery in New York.
Installation View of the 1988 One-Artist Show at Tossan-Tossan Gallery in New York.

This photograph shows the historic first exhibition of my computer programs on the Amiga 1000. The context was my one-artist show at Tossan-Tossan Gallery in January of 1988, in New York. To the left on a table is my Amiga 1000 running several of the kinetic paintings that I programmed in 1986 and 1987. To the right of the Amiga 1000 is a television running a video recorded from the Amiga. On the left are two oil paintings hanging on the wall. This view reflects what was going on in my aesthetic life. Oil painting and digital programming of computer films were growing simultaneously together like an adult and child.

Photograph of Bird Dog on the Original Amiga Sreen, 1990.
Photograph of Bird Dog on the Original Amiga Sreen, 1990.

The Amiga Screen has a unique texture that when enlarged looks like a beaded image. But showing the work on the original screen only serves historical recreation. I believe the artwork itself is embedded in the original thinking. Just as the screen of the Amiga 1000 filled my field of vision when I was programming, it is fitting that in public spaces it should be shown in a size that fills the viewer’s field of vision using the most advanced technology. I used to think that the Amiga itself became the art when running one of my programs. But I had a change of heart as I experienced the Amiga kinetic paintings exhibited in public on monumental LED screens.

The following are created as single digital images using the Kinetic Painting Program, an App I programmed during the early 1990s. During the late 1980s having seen electronic musicians jamming on stage after the conference days at the Small Computers in the Arts Network in Philadelphia, I began to yearn to jam abstract images in motion with musicians. I converted the computer’s keyboard into an abstract painting piano where each key press creates visual material or short moving images. I called it the Kinetic Painting Program. I could use it to create unique single images by playing the keyboard until a painting that I really like developed on the screen. I would then save it as a file (a bitmap) and give it a title. Of course, I could use the program to jam with musicians in performance. I made recordings of my collaborations with musicians. During the 1990s and 2000s, I performed mostly with Kevin Nathaniel and his group and we called ourselves the Kinetic Painting Group.

A live collaboration of jamming image and sound between me and Kevin Nathaniel. While I played my Kinetic Painting Program, Kevin used a variety of percussion instruments. The process of our work has always been to practise ideas but never to nail them down. Then we always perform impromptu, a kind of traditional jamming as in jazz, or traditional irtijal as in Arabic performance.

Photographs dating from November 21, 2023, on the beach at night in Abu Dhabi enjoying the amazing billboard sized installation on a 16 x 24 foot LED screen installed as part of the Manar Abu Dhabi Public Art Project accompanying Abu Dhabi art. The screen is composed of ninety-six smaller LED screens each measuring 2 x 2 feet, so organised as to create a perfect 6:4 ratio of the original artwork produced on a PC dating from the early 1990. On first finding the installation having just arrived in Abu Dhabi, Kevin and I began to dance and invited the attending staff to join us and they did.


Morning Rain, 1997, a.c., 52 x 118 in (132 x 278.5 cm).
Morning Rain, 1997, a.c., 52 x 118 in (132 x 278.5 cm).

My aesthetic path kept expanding with growing understanding of how time in both 20th century abstraction and mediaeval Arabic art had combined to teach me how to extract ideas from nature that become processes to make a painting grow as nature does. The richness of the world world we see had led me to begin examining something else about seeing and that was the strategies we use to examine our surroundings as we move. How the focussing of our eyes jumps from one location to another found its way into my paintings as I began to lay down brush marks distributed according to a sequence we might use in looking as we move. Several sets distinguished by their colours became something the viewer could unpack as as she or he looked at a painting of what on the surface seemed a multiple of coloured spots. Morning Rain, 1997, was the first mature piece in the Painterly Abstraction series. The difficulty in making these paintings work was the immediate association one made with a landscape that painterly colours implied. Any dark clump became a bush or a tree. Any horizontal sequence became a horizon line. This meant that as soon as three-dimensional illusions appeared, the relativity of space was cancelled and with it abstraction. My reaction was always dismay. I recognised the failures immediately and strove hard to overcome them. Now, after the struggle I went through with painterly abstraction, I know completely the fact that seeing is an educated process.


Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, 2003, acrylic on paper and canvas soft bas-relief, 9 x 15 feet, 275 x 457 cm).
Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, 2003, acrylic on paper and canvas soft bas-relief, 9 x 15 feet, 275 x 457 cm).

All along the way since the very beginning, I questioned the meaning of the picture plane in painting. That being the surface and perimeter of the painting and how they affect the visual material they hold. They form the boundary between the content of the painting and the world outside it. I loved studying the many ways that historical periods have used these boundaries and I love exploring and pushing the boundaries myself. Thus came the period of liberating my painting completely from the rectangle and removing the wooden stretcher completely. I began to paint on pieces of canvas, cutting them into shapes and stitching them together. In my mind was how beautiful each leaf of a tree was and how the whole tree was made up of thousands of leaves. I thought to make art not only free of the stretcher but also one that combined multiple beautiful things to form one large work. Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, 2003, is the unquestioned queen of this period in my work. I imagine it to be a representation of the geography of Palestine beginning on the right we see the Mediterranean plains and the plethora of their vegetation, then moving to the middle to the mountains of Jerusalem and Birzeit arriving at night to see the olive, fig, almond, trees as well as the mountains with their striations of rocks and the stepped mountain sides carefully cultivated by our solid Palestinian villagers. Then as we move further leftwards, we enter the desert on our way to the Dead Sea. It is a trip that I have taken often.


Damascus, 2010, a.c.,36 x 75 in (91.5 x 190 cm).
Damascus, 2010, a.c., 36 x 75 in (91.5 x 190 cm).

The most mature period of my many decades of thinking was given a strong push from the support of Khaled Samawi and Ayyam Gallery that accepted me into their fold in 2008. As my work began to sell for the first time in my life, I began to make more work on canvas than on paper. I have always been productive and had focused on paper because it was easier to store. There was a time when I challenged myself to only allow paintings to exist if I were willing to give up a window to keep them. As more of my thoughts found realisation in larger, more serious works on canvas, my aesthetic cogitation sped forward and I began to think about the world the way I paint. Space,time and movement became inseparable, that is they became one attribute. Threatening any one of them destroyed the whole world of reality. Damascus, 2010, was a homage to the great city and the beauty and colour that I found there. I made many photographs of the markets and the city and often combined pairs of them into one photomontage. This painting does not represent any one thing in Damascus, it is more reminiscent of how flowers grow and how seeds mature. But as abstraction deals with the general, one might say that Damascus became for me a gateway to amazing beauty in its neighbourhoods and markets and helped release and bring to flower many of my ideas and observations of nature.



SELECTIONS is a platform for the arts, focusing on the Arab World.

Selections editorial presents a quarterly print magazine and weekly online publication with high quality content on all subjects related to Art and Culture. Full of world-leading artworks, exquisite brand imagery, original creative illustrations and insightful written articles.
Selections Viewing Rooms presents carefully curated online art shows aiming not only to shed light on contemporary art executed by living artists, but also for viewers to buy contemporary fine art, prints & multiples, photography, street art and collectibles.
Discover the previous and current shows here.
Cultural Narratives foundation is an extensive collection that is travelling the world by leading established and emerging talents aiming to reflect the culture of the region in their works.