Nabil Anani, Motherhood, 1995, Oil on canvas, 75cm x 85cm.Courtesy of the artist and Zawyeh GalleryThis art work reflects the theme of "Motherlands and Dreamscapes"

Motherlands and Dreamscapes

In relation to the above historical contexts, it is not surprising that the representation of the landscape has dominated the artistic expression of Palestinians. The cultural arenas of literature, theatre, cinema, dance, and art have played a significant role in shaping a vision of the landscape, one mobilised in the formation and articulation of national identity. What has occurred over the decades however, are significant changes in the representations of the landscape by artists, as their relationship to the landscape and the landscape
itself has been transformed.

Landscapes came to dominate Palestinian art in the mid-1970s and 1980s, particularly by artists living in the Occupied Territories and inside Israel. This was accompanied by calls to resistance through popular posters in which there was a plethora of folkloric symbols. The focus on images of villages coincided with a revival of heritage and folklore that began in the late 1970s. As more explicit forms of national expression were censored by the Israeli occupation, the village, with its pastoral image, served as a suitable metaphor for the nation. The representations were not of specific villages but rather combined elements that
together constituted an idyllic utopia. These included a landscape in full bloom, stone houses, and women wearing traditional costume, surrounded by children, or engaged in domestic activities such as baking bread, grinding wheat, and harvesting crops, fruits and olives.

These idyllic representations serve to elide the realities of the present, and in so doing cast an image of the future in a nostalgic utopian lens of the past. The focus on the village and peasantry contours the representation of the landscape as a distinctly domestic one. The presence of the female figure in the landscape in traditional costumes became the foremost visual signifier of national identity. The mother, who becomes the motherland, invested the image of Palestine with maternal symbolism, as in Nabil Anani’s painting Motherhood. In this painting, the landscape is reduced to an arch of vines, and the peasant woman’s embroidered dress has lost its regional specificity and has been replaced with the four colours of the Palestinian flag. Sliman Mansour created a lifetime of works on this theme, one such example is Yaffa in which a young woman in traditional Palestinian costume carries a basket of oranges, while in the background the orange groves are full of women collecting fruit. She gazes into the distance as if lost in memories.