Considered as one of the most important masters of Palestinian art, Ismail Shammout's artistic role was shaped by his own history, which reflects hardship, tales of forced exodus and a deep-rooted dedication to his homeland. A selection of important works of paintings and watercolours representing the artist's acclaimed Tall Al Zaatar series are being offered by two private collections from Italy and the other from Mrs Moyasser Shammout, sister of the late artist. Living through the 1948 Palestinian exodus (Nakba) and facing exile from Palestine, Ismail Shammout had depicted the many struggles he faced throughout his artistic career. Shammout and his family marched from his hometown, Lydda, to the Khan Younis camp in Gaza when the artist was eighteen. This experience shaped the life of the artist as he became actively involved in regional politics. The diversity of this selection encompasses works both in watercolor and oil, two styles that have given the artist his recognition as an iconic Palestinian painter.
Al Tariq (The Way) reflects the tone of the dramatic and tragic events which unfolded in Palestine during the 1950s forward. The mastery in figurative execution of the piece highlights the many faces of a deeply affected crowd. As suggested by the title, the aggravated crowd is on the way, moving forward together through Palestinian nationalism and part of the larger Arab nationalization movement. At the time the unity of the Palestinian liberation movement was not yet a reality; it was for Shammout that he participated during those years in conquering the many arguments and differences between these many organizations, using Al Tariq as an invitation to unify the fight for their beliefs and emphasize the necessity for teamwork. In the composition, the weapons disappear in the crowd of faces that are accentuated by the artist's bold use of line and colour. Light shines selectively on their faces, revealing identity and stressing each individual’s role in their shuffling movement. They each tell their own story in a collective manner, and when looked at as a whole, the individuals contribute to an all-embracing melancholic and aggrieved tone. With tense foreheads and frowning features, the crowd of men and women is threatening in attitude; the dark hues add to the disgruntled, yet committed faces. The composition addresses a strong sense of dedication, disregarding the disturbing circumstances.
In 1976, the artist painted a notorious series of watercolour paintings titled Tall Al Zaatar in which he looks back at the haunting memories of the seige of a Palestinian refugee camp of that name in Lebanon in which thousands were killed. This sad famous episode of the Arab conflict was not only a major symbol of the Palestinian struggle but also the result of proxy wars of the region, where violence was inflicted within. Christie’s presents three works from this important series: Untitled, Thirst and In The Eye. Because Shammout was so directly and closely linked to the political situation in his country, the three watercolours strike the viewer with direct vigor. A motherly figure in each depicted with overwhelming worry within a tumultuous scene, common in Shammout’s work. In these works she is depicted leading children away from a burning and chaotic Palestine, and carefully embracing her children. She looks back at her dying homeland, with an expression that speaks to confusion for the future. The painting is a direct allusion to the conflict surrounding political relations between Israel and Palestine, tackling issues of occupation and diaspora. Although she expresses a natural sense of worry, the mother in all appears to be bigger than life, as her embrace fills the piece with a subtle but clear hopefulness.
An Encounter in the Prison Cell depicts the touching embrace of a family that is meeting in prison. The family's intimate encounters became so exposed with the new situation many Palestinians were forced to live. With many more men rebelling and joining the resistance and the Palestinian movement of liberation, many more encounters were to happen in captivity, namely in jail, behind bars, and in harsh and sad conditions. Inspired and shaken by the hardship his people were enduring, Shammout has become well known for depicting such scenes, which are overwhelmingly emotional showcasing these short, realistic stories. The dark hues that flow between their clothes and the darkened background provide a grieving tone. The prisoner, however, still stands high and proud with his chin up and looking forward, providing the scene its last glance of hope. This emotional work demonstrates the artist’s signature style of addressing the plight of the people around him and the various memories from the Nakba which he scavenges from his mind.