Writing is a way to go home, painting is being at home. – Kamal Boullata

AMMAN – On the morning of August 6th, the world lost the renowned Palestinian artist, intellectual and writer Kamal Boullata.

Kamal Boullata image courtesy of the Arab American Institute.

Born and raised in Jerusalem in 1942, Boullatas beginnings as an artist found him roaming the courts of his hometown sketching portraits and street scenes. Boullata recalls spending hours as a child sketching the seemingly infinite geometric mosaic shell of the Dome of the Rock.

Kamal Boullata, Angelus II-1, Angelus II-2 and Angelus II-3, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2017, image courtesy of Meem Art Gallery.

In the early 1960’s, Boullata left his hometown to study at the acclaimed Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome, after which he attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington DC and got his MFA. Afterwards he received two research scholarships. The first was the Fulbright Senior Scholar Fellowship in 1992 focused on Islamic Art research in Morocco and Andalusia. The second being the Ford Foundation Research Grant in 2001, which found Boullata looking into the history of Palestinian art, and resulted in the 2009 publication of his book Palestinian Art: From 1850 to the Present

Kamal Boullata, Revolution (5/30), Silkscreen, 1978, image courtesy of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts and Mandala (14/30), Silkscreen, 1978, image courtesy of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts.

Boullatas calligraphic works are a crucial part of the Middle Eastern Hurufiyya movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s. During this period, Boullata experimented with the Arabic Kufic script to recreate visual writings with modernist attributes. 

Boullata is also known for his colourful abstract canvases, where each painting is treated as a prism penetrated by white light. The canvases are dissected into geometric shapes that harken back to the shell of the Dome of the Rock. In a 2014 interview with the Barjeel Art Foundation, Boullata spoke of his compositions: “In my geometric paintings, all I did had been to extract the square unit itself from its nuclear network and turn it into the principle subject of my exploration. Thus, the square had been expanded, dissected, rotated and multiplied as it had begun to define the outer dimensions of different painting series In the process, the square’s fragmentations and reconfigurations generated a whole constellation of geometric forms that composed the skeleton of my abstract paintings”.

Kamal Boullata, Kun fa-Yakun (Be, and it is), Acrylic on Canvas, 150x150cm, 2009, image courtesy of Artspace Gallery and Al-Wahid, al-Wajid (The One, The Finder), Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2009, image courtesy of Artspace Gallery.

The artist returned to his calligraphic roots in his 2009 series Homage to al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham. This series was dedicated to the Basra-born mathematician, physicist, geometer, calligrapher and humanist al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham better known as Alhazen in the Western world. Boullata conducted this series of 10 abstracted calligraphic works upon completing his intensive reading of Ibn al-Haithams seven-volume treatise on optics and other fields of study, Book of Optics (Ketab Al Manazir).  

Many voices from the Arab art world took to social media and wrote in tribute to the late artist, including fellow friends Mona Saudi and Hani Zurob, as well as Sultan Saood Al Qassemi, Palestine Museum director Dr. Adila Laidi-Hanieh, Harper’s Bazaar Art’s Editor in Chief, Rebecca Anne Proctor and institutions like Dar El Nimr, Meem Gallery, the Dalloul Art Foundation and the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts.



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