This month sees a timely re-appraisal for one of Palestine’s best-loved icons of resistance art, Sliman Mansour. You can find details of his latest exhibition and book elsewhere in these pages, but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to celebrate the man and his work ourselves.
The Birzeit-born painter and sculptor first came to prominence for his surrealist masterpiece, Camels of Hardship in 1973. The Dali-esque image of a Palestinian peasant struggling under the literal weight of dispossession has become a classic of its kind, and became the launch pad for a career that would be defined by original approaches to representing the struggle for his homeland.
Mansour defines his work as a quest “for the revival of Palestinian identity,” which he felt was his responsibility as an artist. His creative methods of addressing this task have included a focus on natural materials, wood, henna dyes, and found material derived from the land itself. When all conventional artistic tools had to come via Israel, his approach represented an early example of the boycott campaign that flourishes today.
Identified as a subversive by Israeli security forces, Mansour was plagued with harassment. In 1981, an exhibition was closed after six hours and he was arrested. “They told us we are not allowed to use red, green, black, and white in our works,” he recounted in a later interview. Such treatment was to be a recurring theme of a career that was regularly interrupted with jail time.
While his work would prove influential enough to be exhibited in over a dozen countries and four continents, and win such prestigious prizes as the “Nile Award” at the 1998 Cairo biennial, Mansour was never content with merely producing artworks. In addition, he sought to inspire a revolution in Palestine that would bring a new generation of artists capable of communicating creative messages to the world. With this intent, he co-founded the International Academy of Art in Palestine, as well as the Wasiti Art Centre in Jerusalem. Both institutions have gone on to become prestigious names, teaching and exhibiting some of the region’s finest artists.
Mansour’s creativity and determination to revive Palestinian identity has led him through a diverse range of disciplines, including cartoon drawing and authoring two books on Palestinian folklore. He is also a member of the “New Vision” art group which seeks to promote the use of local materials in the spirit he pioneered.
Still hard at work with a glittering career entering its fifth decade, Mansour has stated that one of his most urgent remaining ambitions is to see new art museums open in Palestine so that Palestinian identity and history can be celebrated in a suitably respectful setting. Yet his numerous fans will always celebrate him as a man who made any setting a venue for art-even the Apartheid Wall, on which he drew a beautifully satirical take-off of Michelangelo’s classic painting, The Creation of Adam. One of Palestine’s most original and dedicated artists, Mansour is a gift that keeps giving.