Juhaina Habibi Kandalaft

1947 | Jerusalem, Palestina
Juhaina Habibi Kandalaft — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Juhaina Habibi Kandalaft

Painter, sculptor and art teacher.

Juhaina Habibi Kandalaft was born in Jerusalem in 1947. She grew up in Haifa and Nazareth, where she has lived since 1967. She studied art at Oranim College in Tivon, where she graduated in 1985. J. Habibi Kandalaft’s work reflects her love for the country through the subjects she paints, such as crops, olive and orange trees. All of the elements present in the local nature merge with the women in her paintings. In this way, she depicts the typical trinity of woman, earth and homeland, such as in the painting Tazrae fi a a liradi habat alqamh fatahsud miat dueufa 1 [Sow a grain of wheat in the land, and you will reap a hundredfold 1, 1998].
Women in J. Habibi Kandalaft’s paintings are sometimes based on mythological figures from the region, such as Canaanite or Babylonian goddesses. The artist represents the Babylonian goddess Ishtar in two different ways. In the painting titled Eishtar 1 – fi albad’ kanat ‘iimra’a [Ishtar 1 – In the beginning was a woman, 2013], the goddess appears as a continuity of the original iconography of Ishtar, with the addition of Middle Eastern ornaments such as geometrical patterns, plants and flowers. While in Eishtar 2 [Ishtar 2, 2013] the goddess is represented as a woman connected both with Palestinian and Egyptian cultural heritage, merging past and present into a figure symbolising woman’s power.

In J. Habibi Kandalaft’s paintings women are often represented with a faraway look, wearing clothes that are mostly brightly coloured or decorated with motifs originating from the Middle East’s visual heritage. These representations interweave the real, the imagined and the mythical.

The works of her father, the writer Emile Habibi, and those of the poet Mahmoud Darwich, influence her paintings and inform some of them with a nativist character. Early works such as Tifl min hadha alzaman [A Child of this Era, 1989] and Sabra Washatila [Sabra and Shatilla, 1988] express her preoccupation with the political context. However, her work is a process of experimentation, producing her own language. Though the artist was close to realism in the late 1990s, she began to incorporate more historical and symbolical elements such as Palestinian embroidery, motifs that she reinterpreted in works such as ‘Umuma [Motherhood, 2014].

In a statement from 2016, the artist declared: “I draw what I feel, and that manifests in a political and patriotic message, or in an unwritten poem, or in a natural scene, such as a flower. I adore my heritage and try through my artistic participation to convey my old and beautiful classical heritage, through integration between the past, present and future, so that my message may reach the old and the young.”

In J. Habibi Kandalaft’s paintings,  love of life overcomes death. In her work, humanity appears not only through her respect for all life forms, but also through her respect for all religions and nations. The artist’s mindset is thus governed by hope.

Her work has been shown in Israel, Palestine and internationally. She is a co-founder and member of Ibdaa, the Association for Improving Art in the Arab Society.

Aida Nasrallah

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