Samia Halaby

1936 | Jerusalem, Palestine
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Samia Halaby — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Samia Halaby at Judith Nelson show at New England college, 1974 © Don King

Palestinian painter.

Samia Halaby is a leading contemporary abstract painter and a prominent scholar of Palestinian art. In addition to her career as an artist, she is also heralded as a creative thinker, educator and activist. In the past three decades, she has widely published on art history, art pedagogy and aesthetics.
In 1948, S. Halaby’s family was displaced from Palestine and settled in the United States in 1951. She was educated in the American Midwest when Abstract Expressionism was very popular, but the art world ignored women abstract painters. In the early 1960s, shortly after graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in painting from Indiana University Bloomington, S. Halaby began teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute. She travelled to the Eastern Mediterranean on a faculty research grant in 1964 and did intensive research on geometric abstraction in the Islamic architecture of the region, which has been a major source of inspiration for her work.

In 1972 she became the first full-time female associate professor at the Yale School of Art. However, after retaining this role for a decade, she was denied tenure. S. Halaby and her colleagues organised the exhibition On Trial: Yale School of Art at 22 Wooster Gallery in Manhattan in 1982-1983 to protest the school’s discriminating staff practices against women and people of colour. S. Halaby taught at several universities across the United States for over thirty years. She had many solo shows across Europe, North America and the Middle East, and her paintings have been collected by major museums since the 1970s, including the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

S. Halaby’s abstract works stem from a deep and long-term interest in theories of the act of seeing and visual perception. Nature, primarily native Palestinian trees such as the olive tree, often inspire her works. The artist also draws inspiration from a variety of artistic styles, including early Islamic architecture and the Soviet avant-garde. In works such as Geometric Still Life (1966-1970), Helixes and Cycloids (1971-1975) and Diagonal Flight series (1974-1979), she approaches the representation of reality through abstraction, creating formal properties that correspond to the tonal colour values found in nature. Intensely focusing on the perception of boundaries in representing three-dimensional objects, S. Halaby makes edges almost disappear. Treating them with precision and yet at the same time relying on the formal characteristics of local colour and shade, the artist communicates depth and volume with an examination of the significance of shadows.

Within her unique approach, which she calls visual conjugation, S. Halaby deconstructs the real into its essential elements, and rebuilds it as an abstracted form. The artist believes that ways of seeing and thinking can be changed by introducing new approaches to art, and not just by developing new aesthetic theories. This in turn can also influence the advancements in teaching, technology and society as a whole. With this progressive perspective in mind, S. Halaby pursues experiments in drawing, printmaking, computer-based kinetic art and free-from-the-stretcher painting.

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Rula Khoury

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring


© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Samia Halaby — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Samia Halaby, Two Diagonals, 1968, oil on lead on canvas, 89 x 89 cm, Collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation

Samia Halaby — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Samia Halaby, Lovers, 1972, collage, 46 x 38 cm, Courtesy artist

Samia Halaby — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Samia Halaby, Rainbow Spirals, 1973, oil on canvas, 168 x 168 cm, Courtesy artist

Samia Halaby — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Samia Halaby, Green, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 178 x 178 cm, Courtesy artist

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