Kamal Boullata’s work lives on like a poem. Less than a year after he passed away at the age of 77, Dubai’s Meem Gallery is honoring his memory in an exhibition, “Qasida,” or poem in Arabic. At the opening night on February 17, friends and art lovers gathered to remember the Jerusalem-born artist, a pioneer of Arab abstract art who lived most of his life in exile.
Meem had been representing Boullata in Dubai. His last solo exhibition at Meem was in 2016 and a third one had been planned to be organized when the artist passed away in Berlin, where he had been living since 2012. “We thought it would be nice to show his work and honor his memory, so we have silkscreen prints of his that were made between 1983 and 2018,” says Meagan Kelly Horseman, Meem Gallery Business Developer. “The most recent silkscreen, made in 2018, is Qasida, and so we decided to call this exhibition Qasida.”
Boullata was mostly known for his silkscreen print artworks, using Arab Kufic calligraphy and abstract designs with a Palestinian touch.
Jules Mcdevitt, the Head of Research at Meem Gallery, commented on why they displayed only silkscreen prints. “The artist was a prolific printmaker, and because of his untimely passing, we had to come up with a thematic body of work that sort of was retrospective,” Mcdevitt said. “There are works here that were made in the past 40 years, so it was about showing what’s available but also celebrating his career as a printmaker amongst his other paintings, methods, and mediums he used.”
Boullata was not just an artist, but one of the finest connoisseurs of Palestinian modern art who published two books on the topic. He was a man larger than life, and art historian Patrick Kane says his encounter with the artist during one of his talks in Seattle, U.S.A, in the 1980s, has changed his life forever. “He’s an artist, philosopher, and wanted you to know what art could give you as a way of reflecting the world, beyond politics,” Patrick Kane, author of The Politics of Art in Modern Egypt, said.
Suheyla Takesh, a curator at Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, worked with Boullata on a couple of art shows. “He was a great teacher, and because he was so critical, you would be able to pick up things much faster from him.”
“People love his work. He was one of the most popular artists in our exhibitions. His art is visually attractive as well, even if you can’t read the Arabic words in his patterns, you are somehow attracted to it,” Takesh said.
Boullata’s artworks will be showcased at Meem Gallery until March 9.
Edited by: Farah Mohamed