Known as one of the most important modernist and propaganda masters of Palestinian art, Ismail Shammout and his artistic legacy revitalised Palestinian visual culture through his ability to combine local folklore and a history of hardship, tales of forced exodus, and a deep-rooted dedication to his homeland. Painted two years after the Six Day War, Halo of Light is a seminal example from the artist’s earlier works; bearing powerful symbolic references and painted with his Expressionist style.
In the present scene, a Palestinian Feda’i guerilla fighter is enshrined by a luminous white light, inferred by the title to be a luminous halo; the man rests beneath an olive tree. While simple in its depicted subjects, the scene is ripe with powerful symbolism and irony; as the work is titled Halo of Light , which is a symbol of sanctity and radiance, upon a second look, the solider is also enclosed within dead-center of gun-sight. Completely unaware, the Feda’i clutches his gun and seeks refuge behind an olive tree, a universal symbol of peace, assuming his enemy might be behind him. This is only for the viewer to recognize his ultimate fate –his enemy is in front of him—making this scene emotionally wrenching.
Unsure of the artist’s intentions, we are caught within a momentary state of the unknown; we are unsure of the fate of this fighter and his halo is enshrined around him, glorifies the many Palestinian martyrs fighting in combat, elevating them to the states of the saints. Nevertheless, the scene is chillingly still, showing that fear is found even in one’s most peaceful moments in Palestine; sadly, these fleeting moments of solitude for many fighters are also met with death.
Shammout’s raw depiction of the Palestinian struggle is shown in scenes that place father figures, children, youthful Palestinian women, village life and Fedayeen within relative moments of peace and conflict. His paintings sought to capture a fleeting moment of conviviality and pride amidst a larger uneasiness of fear and uncertainty of the future. Through his allegorical symbolism, his poetic titles and blinding and saturated colours that are impregnated with bold statements of nationalist fervour, the artist provides a sense of determination for his people in regaining their lost land.