Fouad Agbaria: Featured Artist

15 May, 2022


Fouad Agbaria’s body of work is a frag­ment­ed and divid­ed project, rang­ing from Impres­sion­ist nature to Abstract and thence to cal­lig­ra­phy, all pred­i­cat­ed on the artist’s license to dis­trib­ute, dis­rupt, con­struct, and decon­struct. Agbaria is an Abstract artist in the full sense of the word, one who migrates among styles. His artis­tic project amal­ga­mates diverse ele­ments, some con­stant and oth­ers vari­able. He express­es rhythm in his works by rely­ing on and antic­i­pat­ing rep­e­ti­tion that he real­izes by means of con­ti­nu­ity, order, dis­or­der, har­mo­ny, and disharmony…It is evi­dent, too, that Agbaria is strong­ly influenced by Sufism, as man­i­fest­ed in cir­cu­lar move­ment, let­ters in motion, and mix­ing and match­ing of light and dark­ness. —Aida Nasrallah


Fouad Agbaria (فؤاد إغبارية)


Born in the vil­lage of Mus­mus near Umm El Fahm in 1981, Fouad Agbaria earned his BA from Beza­lel Acad­e­my, Jerusalem in 2004 and an MA from Haifa Uni­ver­si­ty in 2014. He is one of the busiest artists of his gen­er­a­tion, among those who are con­tin­u­al­ly redefin­ing what it means to be Pales­tin­ian west of the old Green Line.


Fouad Agbaria self-por­trait dur­ing Covid (cour­tesy of the artist).

As his Ramal­lah gallery, Zawyeh Gallery, notes, Agbaria has paint­ed pro­lif­i­cal­ly, often exper­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent styles, tech­niques and media includ­ing char­coal, oil, acrylic and lith­o­g­ra­phy. His cat­a­log of work to date has dealt with themes asso­ci­at­ed with the Pales­tin­ian nar­ra­tive, iden­ti­ty and mem­o­ry. He has par­tic­i­pat­ed in over 20 group exhi­bi­tions and has held sev­er­al solo shows, includ­ing “Maps of Mem­o­ry” (2018) and “Nos­tal­gia to the Light” (2015). He par­tic­i­pat­ed in the group exhi­bi­tion, Art on 56th, in Beirut in 2016 and sev­er­al oth­er group shows in Nazareth, Jaf­fa and Tel Aviv.


Fouad explains to TMR, “I am hap­pi­ly mar­ried to a won­der­ful woman named Man­ar, a social work­er for the local coun­cil. She has been very sup­port­ive and always encour­ages me to fol­low my dreams. I’ve been blessed with three beau­ti­ful chil­dren, Selen, Mohamad and Adam. Although my pas­sion is art, my day job is a dri­ving instruc­tor, and I also teach art at col­leges, in par­tic­u­lar draw­ing, paint­ing and sculpting.


“My father was a Hebrew lan­guage teacher and my moth­er a mod­est house­wife. From a young age I was raised by an iron fist and a ten­der heart.“I was lucky enough to be born in an area which was sur­round­ed by breath­tak­ing scenery and per­fect land­scapes, and although sad­ly there were many army train­ing bases, I was still able to find calm and beau­ti­ful­ly untouched stretch­es of land, which were a major inspi­ra­tion for me in my map of memories.


“My grand­fa­ther was a tra­di­tion­al Palesti­nan farmer and from a young age I spent most of my spare time help­ing him with all his dai­ly chores, includ­ing plough­ing the land, tend­ing live­stock and har­vest­ing the crops. He was a love­ly man and I enjoyed every pre­cious moment with him even though he was very strict.”


Fouad Agbaria — “Cac­tus in the Vil­lage,” oil on can­vas, 120x120cm, 2010 (cour­tesy of the artist).


Fouad adds: “A few oth­er impor­tant mem­o­ries that gave me inspi­ra­tion were the vast amounts of prick­ly pear cac­ti (sabra) that were com­mon in our area. They were used to pro­tect per­son­al space as a nat­ur­al wall, and also pro­duced beau­ti­ful col­ored edi­ble fruit. What is spe­cial about the cac­tus plant to me is first of all its abil­i­ty to sur­vive and grow in tough envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions; I also found it amaz­ing that a plant to the naked eye looked dead had the abil­i­ty to cre­ate life from with­in itself. In an artis­tic sense, the cac­tus stem — be it full of razor sharp thorns — was extreme­ly soft and smooth. To my young eyes this was visu­al­ly very moving.”


The land­scapes around Agbaria’s home vil­lage of Mus­mus, not far near Umm al-Fahm (in the Galilee) are clear­ly the inspi­ra­tion for his many land­scape paint­ings, often fea­tur­ing the wheat har­vest or the sabra (prick­ly pear cac­ti) — a sym­bol he recu­per­ates from the Israelis who adopt­ed it as their sym­bol for native toughness.


In a recent cat­a­logue, the artist com­ment­ed: “In this day and age, time rush­es by and events trav­el in a flash of light, leav­ing us at a loss. With the recall of child­hood mem­o­ries and rec­ol­lec­tions that refuse to budge and with­er, such as let­ters and words that make up the sto­ry of a nation. Words sway between good and evil, love and hatred, and dev­as­ta­tion and hope in their jour­ney in search of light. With­in cac­tus fences lies a fable that tells the sto­ry of a strug­gle between right and wrong, con­tain­ment and safe­ty, and a mem­o­ry shed­ding light on an aban­doned home and an assault­ed land, refus­ing to be defeat­ed, with all its sweet­ness and thorns/bitterness.” 







An excerpt from Foud Agbaria’s statement: “My World of Painting: an Emotional and Cognitive Refuge”



Dur­ing my aca­d­e­m­ic stud­ies at Beza­lel, my works con­cerned them­selves with tear­ing down and rebuild­ing, mak­ing a mess and clean­ing it up, just as in my child­hood I dis­man­tled my toys only to put them back togeth­er again. I want­ed to wipe off the soot from the ugly sur­face and expose, in a dialec­tic act, the unbridge­able oppo­sites of ugli­ness and beau­ty, of black and pure white.


I also made attempts to revive dec­o­ra­tive-mold art in prac­tice works using char­coal, graffiti, and lith­o­graph­ic print­ing. I tried to posi­tion sym­bols of the cul­ture that I had inher­it­ed with­in the jum­ble of schools and styles that had lit­tle to do with me, to describe the dual­ism of inno­cent beau­ty, and to pro­pose ways of resolv­ing their contradictions. 


When I finished my stud­ies, I chose to return to the area of my birth—to Umm el-Fahem—and make a liv­ing there as a dri­ving teacher. Thus my life pro­ceed­ed in two par­al­lel sys­tems: “real” life and artist-life. Indeed, I engaged at this time with the gulf that sep­a­rat­ed my dour quo­tid­i­an rou­tine from my life as an artist. I tried to point view­ers in the direc­tion of the scenery of my child­hood in Mus­mus as I reex­am­ined the bound­aries of the loca­tion as a sober and social­ly and polit­i­cal­ly aware adult.


I see the prick­ly pear as a sym­bol of sur­vival. Even in aban­doned places and destroyed vil­lages, it remains in the land­scape like a sign­post, affirm­ing its exis­tence and stand­ing over the vil­lage like a sentry.


The prick­ly pear appears in large works that are typ­ified by opti­mistic bold mul­ti­col­or embroi­dery and finds expres­sion in var­i­ous ways that extol its cycli­cal and indomitable nature. It is paint­ed in the form of a wall or a ram­part, bristling but also yield­ing rich nutri­tious fruit in which sweet mem­o­ry is imbued. Some­times it rep­re­sents a per­fect world; here the cac­tus is com­plete, leaves and fruit includ­ed; at oth­er times it is a gray­ing, crum­bling bush, sym­bol­iz­ing destruc­tion. This destruc­tion, how­ev­er, is tem­po­rary; from its decrepi­tude the prick­ly pear will regen­er­ate itself, turn green, and again give forth its sweet, nutri­tious fruit.



In more advanced stages of my work, I lead the prick­ly pear to a place of deconstruction—a sym­bol of the dis­in­te­gra­tion of Arab soci­ety. I fill the can­vas with a mod­el of prick­ly-pear leaves dipped into a plat­ter of yel­low and brown con­tour lines. Here one finds noth­ing com­plete that can be grasped. In oth­er works, the same child­hood land­scape is treat­ed to dec­o­ra­tive graph­ic flat­ten­ing as an expres­sion of pain and sor­row for the loca­tion, which has been defaced and tram­pled by an angel of destruc­tion rep­re­sent­ed by bull­doz­ers. The flat­ten­ing of the scene express­es a crit­i­cism of the State of Israel, which does not allow life and build­ing in this child­hood land­scape, thus ren­der­ing it useless.


Lat­er works express a pro­found frus­tra­tion that traces its ori­gins to the prob­lem of my sta­tus and iden­ti­ty in Israel. The crit­i­cal con­tem­pla­tion neu­tral­izes the remain­ing col­ors, which con­tract into a plat­ter that accom­mo­dates only shades of yel­low and brown. The images to which I relate are great­ly sim­plified. In “Check­point,” I describe a sol­dier aim­ing his rifle at an Arab and order­ing him to undress. The paint­ing attests to a per­son­al expe­ri­ence that I had while attend­ing Beza­lel and liv­ing near Jerusalem, hav­ing to cross check­points each and every day.


In recent years, my work has been express­ing my search for the tran­si­tion from tech­niques to devel­op­ment of ideas. I move between tech­ni­cal and cog­ni­tive worlds, return­ing and seek­ing expres­sion with­in and through col­ors. The works are typ­ified by free brush­strokes and knife etch­ings of grid­like lines of width and height. Lay­ers of gray and black add motion to the paint­ing, allow­ing the yel­low to rise and over­shad­ow the oth­er hues with­out destroy­ing their har­mo­ny. By etch­ing into the paint, I lend the flat paint­ing a mea­sure of pow­er and acute expres­sive­ness. One who views it from up close may think that I used a nee­dle and thread to pro­duce the effect because the etched lines cre­ate the impres­sion of cloth tex­ture. This engrav­ing tech­nique evokes a child­hood mem­o­ry in me: a man who used a nee­dle and thread to pro­duce straw brooms. As a boy, I wait­ed eager­ly for the “straw-broom mak­er” to vis­it our vil­lage, as he did at grain har­vest time. Pas­sion­ate­ly I looked for­ward to the moment when I would sit at his side and watch him cre­ate those brooms with his nim­ble flying fingers.



The sin­gu­lar­i­ty of any artis­tic act is insep­a­ra­ble from the shap­ing of her­itage. Her­itage is fun­da­men­tal­ly a liv­ing force and, as such, it changes rad­i­cal­ly. A sculp­ture or a mon­u­ment of Venus may appear in forms oth­er than its Greek one, the one that made it respectable and valu­able, differ­ing from the gaze of the medi­ae­val nuns who con­sid­ered it as vile, as an idol. Both spec­i­mens, how­ev­er, vie for absolute hege­mo­ny. Here lies the unique char­ac­ter­is­tic of trans­pos­ing an action from one his­tor­i­cal era to anoth­er, each spec­i­men copy­ing over a her­itage and a cul­ture of the time.


Etch­ing in paint is a dual­is­tic act in that it both reveals and con­ceals a sur­face. In my recent works, I express the aspects of the suffer­ing that I expe­ri­ence, includ­ing col­lec­tive and self-crit­i­cal aspects in order to cre­ate a tight bond between my artis­tic endeav­ors and the soci­ety with­in which I live, with its abun­dance of problems. 



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