IN A SOCIETY LIVING IN CATASTROPHIC CONDITIONS, the artist does not have the luxury of being preoccupied with a single vision. Perhaps this can clarify the enigma of Nabil Anani, the artist and sculptor who opened his eyes to the Palestinian Nakba, which continues to generate more Nakbas. The works of Nabil Anani simultaneously per- form the roles of the novelist, poet, historian, architect, filmmaker, musician and restorer of memory. His works grasp at moments from people’s lives, their hills, olive groves, homes, their grandmothers’ embroidered gowns, their weddings and funerals, as if their creator fears the demise of all these things.
In his paintings, Anani is a novelist because he tells the story of a group of people too brutalised to tell their own story. He is a poet when he seizes a single detail here and there: a glancing eye, the tilt of a neck or miles of threatened trees; the frailty in a body in one instance, its amazing power in another. He is a historian when he chronicles through art the events of Palestinian life, its joys and sorrows, the various ways it disappears in spite of joy, and manifests itself in spite of death. He is an architect when he reconstructs the narrative of a nation whose voice and body are both being destroyed. Among the messages his work conveys is that this is a nation whose spirit has collapsed so many times only because it has risen so many times. He is a filmmaker when he selects his scene, either cropping or widening it, and when he chooses an angle for his camera, or deter- mines the proportion of light and shade in the shot. He is a musician in his evident pre- occupation with olive trees that recur in his work like musical figures, yielding astonishing variations on one theme. In one instance we see fields of olive trees extending from one edge of the painting to the other, in another instance only a solitary olive tree. In other variations, rustic homes penetrate the trees, or leave the trees to penetrate them, in an intermingling that generates a new theme, familiar because it recalls his habitual style, yet also surprising because it contains a novel act we have not seen before. Our attention is drawn to the sharp colours in the paintings as they move away from green to purple and violet tones that violently impose themselves on the primal nature of the olive.
Anani, the genuine artisan, desires to be unambiguous in his celebration of Palestinian life and nature, as if he were hosting a celebration in which life itself is the guest of honour. As I contemplate the framed paintings of this artist, my eyes are totally oblivious to the frames. His paintings spill over them, continuing to work their effect beyond those borders. Anani has found the ideal representation for his deep engagement with the geography and history of Palestine through the olive groves the stitches of Palestinian embroidery. He does not paint this embroidery as he finds it on dresses and cushions, but creates something new. We can no longer tell whether the embroidery is an artisanal craft or a spiritual rite transcending its spatial limits, transformed into poetry written with colour and needle. This does not detract from Anani’s reputation that he rarely concerns himself with experimentation (although he does of course experiment in certain cases). The evolution of his art does not depend on stylistic leaps as much as on a quiet growth, contented at times, anxious at others, but always proceeding at a steady pace rather than with sudden leaps. Nor is it a detraction that as one regards his work, one might recall some of the features of the school of Ismail Shammout, the pioneer of fine arts in Palestine and early depicter of the Nakba. The Nakba is not an isolated event with a beginning and an end; rather it never ceases to remind us of its injurious effects. For Palestinians, the pain of their history is a never ending experience, from childhood to old age. Perhaps this is reflected in Anani’s own works, where childhood memories live in an ongoing present.
Anani epitomises collective pain in iconic works where small details point to a great essence, granting memory a colourful life and teaching it to walk between two generations, remaining alive and well.
IN A SOCIETY LIVING IN CATASTROPHIC CONDITIONS
Mourid Barghouti (2018)