A living embodiment of the Palestinian narrative of rising up in revolution, The Rising, by the stalwart Palestinian artist Suleiman Mansour can be considered one of the truly powerful works from what has been described as the golden phase in Mansour’s artistic production. It saw its first and only public exhibit in 1978 in Pasadena, California.
Emerging from a map of the historic Holy Land, a female figure arises victoriously from the centre of the composition as if to symbolise the phoenix rising from the ashes, this painting serves to not only tackle the Palestinian political narrative, but to tell a universal human story of death and resurrection.
An amalgamation of symbolism, surrealism and realism whilst referencing ancient relief works, Mansour aims to highlight the plight of the Palestinians through small touches to affirm the notion of Palestinian resilience; figures in the map show traditional dress, a truncated and masculine hand holding a rifle asserts strength, the old houses of Jerusalem, and the its ancient walls very much in the Canaanite style show the roots and foundations of the Palestinian people. Equally this form of nationalism reaches its pinnacle as the ancient walls of the city surrealistically metamorphose into the traditional Palestinian Kuffiyeh that transforms into a cloak wrapping the woman as she emerges ready for action.
To assert the concept of ashes, Mansour burns the edges of the map, to demark it from the outer narrative, which references ancient reliefs while attempting to chronicle all the main invasions of the Holy Land in history from Ancient Assyrians, Egyptians to the British in modern times. To propose that colonial efforts are in essence bland enterprises, simply concerned with appropriation or theft, the artist painted the outer relief of invasions with two-dimensional perspective and intentionally uses a shimmering gold palette to symbolise the gaucheness of colonial process. This profound contrast of colours and styles is intended to draw the viewers’ attention to the protagonist, as if to imply that despite a troubled history, the real story is how in spite of these mundane realities of death and destruction, resilience and the ability to rebuild and rise from the ashes so to speak remains the most powerful trait of the Palestinian masses.
Derived from the Latin verb resilire, which means to bounce-back, the ubiquitous idea of resilience has assumed a profound centrality in contemporary culture in recent years. Herein lies the significance of The Rising as a truly pioneering attempt to tell the story of resilience, particularly within a Palestinian and Middle Eastern context more than ever, and the remarkable capacity of human beings to bounce-back and rise up from their tragedies.