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196, August 2014 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Palestinian Folkloric Fairy Tales A Spotlight on Palestinian Painter Bissan Rafe
By Federico Cao
As a multimedia artist and writer based in Texas (USA), Bissan Rafe Alhussien (Qasrawi) established her official art studio (Nohra-Studio) back in 2007, and is currently the director of international relations and a member of the directive council at the International Artist Collective, Ali Ribelli, based in Italy. Her work ranges from oil paintings to illustrations and many things in between. One of her most notable oil series is Palestina I, a series of oil-on-wood paintings that outline the Palestinian folklore and dilemma using folkloric dresses.

It might come as a surprise that Bissan never formally studied art except in two college-level courses in high school and, instead, is a biological science major from the University of Houston System pursuing a future career in naturopathic medicine.

Bissan was born in 1986 as a member of the Palestinian diaspora displaced in Kuwait. At the age of four, she and her family fled to Jordan during the 1990s Gulf War and settled in a remote village on the border of Syria and Jordan near the Dead Sea. They were there for eight years, during four of which they lived primitively, without electricity or running water. “The number four seems to be a reoccurring code in my life,” she says. “It’s very uncanny to be honest!” Subsequently, she named one of her novels A Line of Four Syllables, whereby each increment of the number four marked a major landmark in her life.

Fairy Tales, Bissan’s new project, is a collection of both individual and collaborative work linking eastern and western Asian folkloric cultures through imagination. The new series includes six projects, two of which are in production. Each project is a full-coloured text-illustrated book that conveys an original fairy tale.

The series as a whole will be collected in an anthology encompassing the six fairy-tale books in addition to a documentary outlining all the residencies and countries visited during the creation period. The six fairy tales are: Shamms Islet, The Child Far Away, De Clérambault, The Invisible Girl and the Goat, and two more which are still being formulated.

Shamms Islet is a fairy tale based loosely on Bissan’s novelette released earlier in 2012 by the same name under Nohra-Studio/Arabesque Ink literary division. The story focuses on the journey of a Westerner wolf to the summit of a high mountain where he meets and befriends a girl imprisoned on an islet there with only a giant shadow for a companion.

Shamms Islet ties inspirations from three regions: Beisan (Palestine), Big Bend (Texas), and Yamanashi/Fukuoka (Japan), linking western and eastern Asian folklores. The creation process involved several art residencies and travels to the aforementioned locations with future plans for final production scheduled for Japan in 2013.

How the project is conducted is one of the most attractive aspects of Bissan’s work. Naturopathic medicine, art, and folklore were masterfully woven into the fabric of the story combining elements from the various involved regions. For example, the dress Shamms wears is based on Palestinian traditional dresses that she observed during her trip to the West Bank. The nature and background of the illustrations are linked to locations in Yamanashi, Big Bend, and Beisan.     

The Child Far Away is an illustrated fairy tale produced through the collaboration between Italian-American writer Jason R. Forbus and Bissan Rafe. The story revolves around the refugee child and dreams and is based on the Island of Ventotene. The construction and presentation took place in Italy, Portugal, and Palestine, with revenues generated to support the book’s donations to schools in refugee camps and the developing world.

The Child Far Away has a music production based on an orchestral musical score by Cristian Maddalena that will feature live stage interactions with life-size portraits of the characters and various actors, and an exhibition of the illustrations scheduled to premiere in Italy sometime during November 2012.

Finally, De Clérambault, the third of six in the series, is a fairy tale based loosely on Bissan’s short story by the same name in which the De Clérambault psychological syndrome or Erotomania is the central theme: a type of delusion where a person believes that a complete stranger is in love with him or her. The syndrome often manifests during psychosis, especially in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

De Clérambault explores the concept of martyrdom. In particular, it links the Berlin Wall to the Apartheid Wall in Palestine. The events of the fairy tale are purely fictional, and the story is told in a dreamlike atmosphere. The title of the work is used metaphorically in the story in order to explain the psychological discrepancies of martyrdom.

Bissan, originally from Beisan, is but one example of the refreshing art one feels resonating from young Palestinians with yet another innovative approach to redefining the Palestinian cause and image. Her new series, Fairy Tales, is a beautiful rendition of the Palestinian history and reality through vibrant, breath-taking illustrations and a gripping style of storytelling. For more information, you can visit the artist’s official website at or Ali Ribelli International Artist Collective at, which is currently welcoming new artist members.

Federico Cao is an architect and art enthusiast based in New York and Turino (Italy). He has a master of architecture degree from Northeastern University in Boston. He currently resides with his wife and two sons in Turino. Federico can be reached at

All illustrations and pictures are copyright protected by the artist, Bissan Rafe.

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