Violet, red and canary-coloured fields; trees laden with blossom; swirling lines, dots, geometric patterns; the undulating figures of women embedded into the earth – the Palestinian artist Nabil Anani turns the landscape of his homeland into a burning bright patchwork of dreams, memories, cultural and artistic references. A key figure in the Palestinian contemporary art movement, Anani’s work is shaped by folkloric culture and a powerful sense of national pride. The Land and I, the artist’s first solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, comprises a collection of recent mixed-media works that explore a sense of connectedness to the land and pay homage to the vibrancy of artisanal cultures.
Anani grew up during a critical period in Palestinian history. He was born in 1943 during the British mandate and his childhood was shaped by the Nakba (literally translated from Arabic as catastrophe) which saw the displacement of Palestinians by Israel as well as the destruction of many cities, towns and villages. Amid the destruction of his homeland, the artist sought refuge amid the vineyards and rolling hills of Halhul, a city in the southern West Bank, where he completed his early education. Throughout his career, these pastoral scenes and his experiences of village life have remained central to his practice. The landscapes he depicts, however, are not simply representations of his own observations, but rather expressions of collective memory and solidarity with his homeland. Unlike many of his peers, the revolutionary spirit of Anani’s art comes less through his subject matter than through the use of his medium – the revival of folkloric style and the incorporation of organic, local materials such as straw, natural dyes and wood that result in uniquely textured surfaces.
In several of the paintings, the figure of a woman (or women) appears within the landscape as an allegory of Palestine – the mother, the source of nourishment and shelter for her people. In Nudes and Landscape (2021), rows of undulating bodies imply hills or mountainous ranges while in an untitled work from 2022, a gigantic woman in an embroidered skirt rises up from the centre of the earth, her brown hair, filled with blossom, spreads out across the top of the landscape while at the centre of her chest a silhouette of a tree floats within a glowing turquoise orb. In this work, as elsewhere, Anani subtly infuses the landscape with the colours of the Palestinian flag – red, green, white and black – as a symbol of strength and resistance. Elsewhere, vividly coloured fields rendered in scattered brushstrokes take on a post-Impressionistic quality that evokes a sense of both movement and serenity – like a warm wind blowing through the crops.
In this way, the landscapes become sensorial maps that carry us not just through space but also time. Each work is embedded with complex and specific emotional experiences and memories, and yet, the rich textures, vivid colours and bold, geometric shapes invite us to also find connections to the land through our contexts.