Most art galleries and social media in Amman and the Middle East mourned this weekend the passing away of artist Abdul Hai Mussalam.
Born in 1933 and living in his home village Al Dawaimeh, near Hebron until 1948, that period of Abdul Hai’s life had the most impact on his art; he spent his childhood in his village home where all the women in his village would come together each morning. He represented this repetitive ritual in his work Abdul Hai’s Mother’s House, in which he recounted the daily routine of the village women who came together to embroider and chat over morning coffee.
In 1970 he began to use a carpenter’s technique of mixing sawdust with glue to produce a dough-like substance to fill the cracks of a piece of wood in order to form bas-relief figures and shapes. The ensemble is later painted to form masterpieces that reflect the memoirs of the artist’s early life in Palestine.
He moved between Libya, Beirut and Damascus before settling back in in Amman. Throughout his journey Abdul Hai maintained his spontaneous nature and honesty, which were reflected clearly and freely in his representations of pre-1948 Palestine. He concentrated on the beauty and simplicity of the Palestinian village daily life, celebration, feasts, and traditions – not yet the conflict in Palestine.
The late seventies and early eighties in Beirut were an important period in Abdul Hai’s art, during which he continued to work under Israeli bombing. His art during that period reflected the Palestinian struggle; some of his work depicted young women and men dancing with rifles in their hands represents pride and power, and the commitment to resist. He also dedicated a collection of his artworks to his late friend caricaturist Naji Al-Ali, who was assassinated in London in 1987.
His works of that period were exhibited in many places. Another approach to resistance is noticeable in the prominence of “the woman” in works that reflect Palestinian heritage and folklore. For him she is a symbol of the earth, the revolution, or freedom; she is a representation of fertility and the land.
Abdul Hai created folk portraits and documented traditional songs, sayings, and poems that relate to various occasions and situations. His works represent traditional dresses from various areas of Palestine. He also portrayed the village weddings, and celebrations including Dabkeh, arrival of bride “Zaffeh,” and other occasions like Ramadan.
Gold Dust is a film produced in 1986 by Mohammad Mawas that tells the story of Abdul Hai Musallam. The title refers to the ability of the artist to transform cheap raw materials into pieces of art that tell the story of Palestine.