Tamam Al-Akhal

1935 | Jaffa, Palestine

Palestinian painter.

Tamam Al-Akhal was one of the first Palestinian women artists to receive formal art training, and she is considered as one of the pioneers of modern Palestinian fine arts. Her realist work, expressive and impressionistic, focuses on subjects like the Mediterranean Sea, which reminds her of her hometown Jaffa and the local traditional markets and the architecture of Palestinian buildings. She uses vivid colours, with a sense of longing and nostalgia for the land, the people and the place that she was expelled from during the Israeli occupation, the Nakba of 1948.
T. Al-Akhal was born in Jaffa, a place that deeply influenced her. Her paintings offer a rare testimony on surviving the events and consequences of the Nakba. She has been at the forefront of recounting Palestinian history, and has taken part in building a Palestinian artistic vision and vocabulary. Showing Palestinian history with brushes and colours, she captures the struggles of the Palestinian people. Her work illustrates an iconic representation of experiences and sensations based on the tragedy of the Palestinian national narrative. Her early paintings, however, were touched by the daily events prior to the Nakba, that happened during her childhood. As she experienced people’s joy, she used crayons and watercolours to capture those moments.

Educated first in Jaffa, then in Beirut, Lebanon, and finally at the Higher Institute of Arts Fine Art in Cairo, Egypt, T. Al-Akhal graduated in 1957. She then started to teach art in Beirut and in Ramallah. In 1959 she married artist Ismail Shammout (1930-2006) and collaborated with him in establishing and leading the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Arts and National Culture Division. Both were forced to relocate to several countries because of regional wars and the ongoing Palestinian refugee problem.
Together with her husband, T. Al-Akhal established a set of visual symbols that became known for identifying Palestinian art. Such symbols include the purebred Arabian horse. Its curvaceous shape and movement, it resonates with the variety of Palestinian rhythmic music. Another element identified with her work is the presence of white, identified as the Mawal (In Arabic Music, the mawwāl is a traditional genre of vocal music that is usually presented before the actual song begins), as if in a song it repeats without being coloured, causing all the shapes within the painting unite.

The literature points to three artistic periods in her career. The first phase is the realist painting, such as Sabra Market (1972). The second phase is the abstract and cubist painting echoing the fashionable Palestinian traditional embroidery. The third is understood as an attempt to draw inspiration from the pictorial Arab Islamic heritage in dealing with current issues, using on the symbols of the horse, the flower and the city, such as in Horses in Paradise (1990-1999).
T. Al-Akhal is distinguished for her special achievements and adventure in the field of arts, where she dares to incorporate new methods and modern technologies with different materials.

Rula Khoury

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

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